From the archives: November 2008

Five post-Thanksgiving questions to digest

November, 29, 2008
11/29/08
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1. Which team can pay CC Sabathia more than $140 million?
We know the Yankees can, will and may keep moving up to make it impossible for Sabathia to go anywhere else.

We also know that Angels owner Arte Moreno can make it very difficult for anyone to say no; ask Torii Hunter after Moreno put the rush on him at the Del Taco across the street from the ballpark. Many had thought the Dodgers would be into Sabathia big-time, but as several baseball people have pointed out, their statements on Manny Ramirez indicate that the McCourts still are trying to bring the Dodgers' revenue streams into the 21st century. And with holes to fill at second, short, third, the starting rotation and in the bullpen, there are a lot of concerns to address.

Sabathia is not an egomaniac. He puts family first, winning second and everything else falls in behind. The union is not interested in family or winning, only getting top dollar, and for Sabathia to turn down top dollar from the Yankees may be very difficult.

2. The Braves, Cubs and seemingly everyone else claim they're not in on Jake Peavy. What's going on?
The Padres absolutely believe Cubs GM Jim Hendry can make this a three-way trade to get the Padres the pitching they need in addition to third-base prospect Josh Vitters. The Braves were not going to have to surrender any of their five best prospects, but have hesitated over Class A-level pitching. Peavy is a Cy Young winner, in case anyone's forgotten.

3. How can Scott Boras ask for more than two years for Manny Ramirez?
That's what Manny was looking for when he wanted out of his Boston contract, and while one might wonder about Ramirez losing interest, he is in better shape now than he was when he signed with the Red Sox. His work at Athletes' Performance Institute last winter was legendary (API was closed for the week between Christmas and New Year's and he got a key to get in and do his work), and right now he's at the API/Dr. James Andrews facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla. "The work Manny did for his core and his agility completely changed him," says former North Carolina coach Mike Roberts, who oversees much of the baseball-related operations for API. "It is amazing what he's done for his body."

One of Manny's best baseball friends says he believes he will stay focused, especially if he could get to a place like Anaheim. "Right now he's really obsessed with 600 homers [Ramirez has 527], and when he gets to 600, he may get obsessed with 700."

Nice little rivalry with Alex Rodriguez (553 homers) to see if they can make a run at Barry Bonds' 762.

4. Where is A.J. Burnett going?
Nowhere until Sabathia signs. Obviously.

5. Is Pudge Rodriguez done?
Who knows? Give him credit. He played for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League in the past month, helping the team that he believes gave him his first start.

At this point, one doesn't have much clue about the second tier of free agents. Padres GM Kevin Towers went to Sunday's Chargers game with Brad Ausmus and hopes to bring him back to the Padres as a mentor to Nick Hundley.

The return of Mike Hampton to Houston may be a fit for the Astros; Jason Giambi may well be a good fit for the Rays.

Things about to get interesting for Dodgers

November, 23, 2008
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Dodgers GM Ned Colletti says Chad Billingsley "is expected to be ready before spring training," after the starter slipped on ice in Reading, Pa., and suffered a broken left fibula.

"It doesn't change anything for the Dodgers," Colletti said.

Likely to lose Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to free agency and Greg Maddux to retirement, the Dodgers seem thin in starting pitching, with Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, James McDonald and Jason Schmidt. And no one knows about the uncertain future of closer Takashi Saito.

Will the Dodgers jump hard on CC Sabathia? Will they try to reopen talks on Jake Peavy? Will they move on Ben Sheets or A.J. Burnett? To go into spring training without adding a veteran starter may be a big gamble, although they still reside in the subpar NL West. Colletti will see what unfurls over the next few days.

The next 10 days will be significant as the Sabathia Sweepstakes picks up pace. Colletti knows that if he gets close to the Yankees' offer, he has a legitimate shot at the prize of this offseason. The fact that Billingsley got hurt before Thanksgiving may be a blessing in one sense. Then again, it may force the Dodgers to offer Sabathia a larger deal than they ever imagined.

Sabathia right now holds the major free-agent market hostage -- impacting Manny Ramirez, Burnett, Lowe and, to a lesser degree, Mark Teixeira.

The Mets control the closer market. Sure, there are a lot of teams from Cleveland to Milwaukee to St. Louis to Detroit to Texas to Tampa that would like closers, but the Mets are the key.

Jayson Stark's closer piece succinctly summed up the market, which is why it's been hard for the White Sox to get value for Bobby Jenks or the Pirates to get much for Matt Capps. Or why it may be hard for the Mariners to get a Fernando Martinez from the Mets for J.J. Putz, or for the Rockies to get two young pieces for Huston Street.

Are any of the other closer-seeking teams really going to go to four or five years on Francisco Rodriguez, even if he is only 26? Is anyone going to go four years -- and pay Billy Wagner money -- for Brian Fuentes? Is anyone going to go more than two years and $20-23 million for Kerry Wood?

Mets general manager Omar Minaya has quietly and smartly positioned himself so the closer market can come to him. A backloaded, three-year deal of around $35 million (after all, they still owe Wagner $10.5 million for 2009) for Rodriguez? That makes sense. Right now, it appears that the Mets can wait, let the market take its course and end up with Rodriguez, Wood, Fuentes or Putz while they deal with rotation and outfield depth issues.

***

• One of the things Scott Boras does brilliantly is use selected media members to take his gospel forth, a skill all his clients value. His latest case for why Jason Varitek should get a contract like the one the Yankees gave Jorge Posada points to Bob Boone and Carlton Fisk, who had down years at 36 years old, then came back stronger at 37 (Fisk hit 37 home runs at 37).

A quick look at my sabermetric encyclopedia shows that only six catchers have ever caught 100 games at age 37 -- Boone (147), Brad Ausmus (138), Fisk (130), Benito Santiago (125), Ernie Whitt (115) and Elston Howard (100).

Only five catchers have hit as many as 12 homers at 37 years old: Fisk, Mike Piazza (22), Ernie Lombardi (19), Santiago (16) and Greg Myers (15).

Johnny Bench caught five games at 35, and retired before his 36th birthday. At 36, Yogi Berra hit 22 homers; at 37, he hit 10. Berra caught 68 games after he turned 36.

Boras' holiday sales pitch sounds as if the Varitek market is a tad slow.

***

• Paul Volcker's appearance at this week's owners' meetings got the owners' attention, and lends credence to Bud Selig's warnings about the economy's impact on the game. The former Federal Reserve chairman warned owners that the worst has yet to come, and teams are finding that high-end ticket sales have slowed dramatically and that corporate marketing dollars are suddenly hard to come by, even in big-market cities. Not everyone can be like Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and absorb $30-40 million in losses. And remember, in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS between the Rays and Red Sox, many tickets went unsold at face value at Fenway Park.

• The Cape Cod League Hall of Fame inductions on Saturday included Mike Stenhouse, Jeff Innis (who spoke eloquently of visiting the Cape League Hall of Fame at the JFK Building in Hyannis 45 years to the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated), Matt Murton, Ben Sheets and Bob Hansen.

The league has gotten past the pitiable, blind commissioner's office bean counters who in the name of licensing are forcing teams to change their names if they are used by major league franchises, proof that there are too many people in New York who care more about another $600 David Glass can stuff in his pockets than the game.

It makes one wonder if some of the commissioner's office business folks understand the roots of the game and where fans come from.

• Chad Cordero is back throwing ahead of schedule and hopes to be back in the big leagues by May. So watch for the Mets and Angels to show interest in the one-time All-Star reliever.

• Looking at the list of players available in next month's Rule 5 Draft of unprotected players is a reminder of the risk of drafting pitchers in the first round. The list of those available includes Jay Rainville, Ryan Wagner, Tim Stauffer, Wade Townsend and Bobby Brownlie, as well as Kei Igawa and Alan Horne, whom the Yankees were discussing in some of their Johan Santana deal combinations last winter.

• The best radio I've heard in months was Mike Krzyzewski's interview with Bob Knight on Coach K's "Basketball and Beyond" on Sirius.

It's not all doom and gloom in South Florida

November, 21, 2008
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Larry Beinfest and the Marlins took Chris Resop and traded him for Kevin Gregg. Two years and 61 saves later, they moved Gregg to the Cubs for Jose Ceda, a 21-year old right-handed reliever sought by several other teams in other prospective deals with Chicago. Ceda's another power arm in the Florida stable.

This is a remarkable organization, tightly bound from Beinfest to Mike Hill, Dan Jennings to Jim Fleming, Stan Meek to Orrin Freeman. They had the lowest payroll in baseball last season and were 84-77, a half-game better than the Dodgers while playing in a far stronger division. They won the World Series in 2003, then had to tear the team back down. They finished above .500 in 2003, 2004 and 2005, bottomed out in 2007 and are once again knocking on the door in a division with the world champion Phillies and a Mets team that is expected to win.

What does it mean to have winning records four of the past six years with that kind of allowance and a ballpark that might as well be in Yeehaw Junction?

The Orioles haven't had a winning record since 1997, the other time the Marlins won the World Series before dismantling the team. Baltimore is 188 games under .500 in the 21st century; Pittsburgh hasn't had a winning season since Barry Bonds was their left fielder and George H.W. Bush was president; Cincinnati hasn't had a winning season since 2000; Kansas City has one winning season since 1993; Milwaukee has two in that time, albeit the last two seasons; the Nationals are 107 games under .500 in the past five years, which includes one season in Montreal; and until Detroit got to the World Series in 2006, it went a dozen years under .500 and had the worst record in their division in 2008.

The Marlins are a team in transition that hit 207 homers in a pitchers' park last season, second only to the Phillies. They had a modest plus-3 run differential. Their two best pitchers, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson, were a combined 22-9, and Chris Volstad was 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 14 starts. They see high ceilings for pitchers Andrew Miller and Anibal Sanchez (10-3 in 2006), with Sean West hot on the trail. Down the stretch last season, Nolasco, Johnson and Volstad combined to go 7-3 in September, and The Phish split their last dozen games with the Phillies and Mets, who were fighting to make the playoffs.

Granted, there are nights when you watch the Marlins' home games and it looks as if it is a family-only crowd. But their rebirth has been overlooked (much like Hanley Ramirez's season was ignored in the MVP voting), as everything these days in the NL East is ignored other than the drama of the Mets. For two years in a row, the storyline of the division has been the "collapse" of the Mets, with little credit given to the intrepid Phillies, who never stopped fighting and who this year earned their first championship in 28 years. Things have gone wrong for the Mets, but they did not play in a vacuum, and for two straight years the Phillies stomped their way to the division title, this year the World Series.

We have grown accustomed to the Braves being the third part of the division equation, and they again will get there if they can straighten out their tattered pitching.

Now the Marlins are in the middle of the strong division, especially if Cameron Maybin can make the jump and take over in center field, with Cody Ross in left and Jeremy Hermida in right, and they figure out how the infield aligns around Ramirez -- where Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu and their 61 combined homers end up playing, how they use Emilio Bonifacio's defense, whether Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison or Dallas McPherson or Cantu ends up at first.

"Essentially we wanted to do two things this winter," says Beinfest. "We wanted to improve our defense and work on deepening our bullpen, especially after trading Gregg." Not that they wanted to necessarily move Gregg, Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs and Scott Olsen, but those are the rules of the small market with no legitimate venue, rules that can be followed without complaint because of the developmental system.

Miller's upside eclipses Olsen's if his knee is right and he gets his breaking ball over. They think fireballing right-hander Matt Lindstrom takes Gregg's place, with help from Leo Nunez out of the Jacobs deal, Ceda and a couple of other young arms.

Morrison, the MVP of the Florida State League and one of top performers in the Arizona Fall League, is athletic enough to move to the outfield. Second baseman/third baseman Chris Coghlan (67 BB, 65 K, .298 in Double-A) can play second or third. Speedy outfielder John Raynor had a .402 on-base percentage in Double-A, Scott Cousins hit .285 climbing from Single-A to Double-A, and the two best prospects of all -- 18-year-old monster Mike Stanton (39 HR, .611 SLG in 125 games) and third baseman Matt Dominguez, who turned 19 in August -- played in Greensboro.

If Nolasco, Johnson, Vostad and Miller are all healthy this season and a couple of players from the Maybin, Morris, Sanchez and Coghlan group hit, then the Marlins will be a legitimate team for the Phillies and Mets to fear. Because they're so young and they've got these Stantons up and down the system, the Florida Marlins are going to be around for the long haul.

Ownership put Beinfest and a highly-skilled organization in place, allowed them to draft freely and have put a competitive team on the field, competitive enough to have more winning seasons in the past six years than the Orioles, Pirates, Reds, Nationals, Rockies, Royals and Tigers, combined.

Contrary to what may you might have read and heard, the Phillies' road to the World Series was not just the Mets, it was the talented young Marlins before they got to the talent of the Brewers, Dodgers and Rays.

Come to think of it, maybe when the Marlins play the Rays in the battle for who has the best young talent in Florida or across the Southeast, they will be two of the most interesting series of the first half of 2009 season, even if they play in Yeehaw Junction, Indiantown or on the back lawn of the Orville Tribewasser House of Taxidermy.

Red Sox get power arm in exchange for Crisp

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
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A.J. Burnett interests the Red Sox. He has great stuff. Stuff that plays in October interests a franchise for which October is an expectation.

But while the Red Sox have talked to Burnett's agent, Derek Braunecker, the price of a bidding war with the Yankees (Burnett might well get a four-year, $60 million deal) might be too steep for a team that already has Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka in their primes.

So Wednesday, the Red Sox went in another direction, granting Coco Crisp his wish and trading him to Kansas City for Ramon Ramirez, a 27-year-old power reliever Boston feels can be a setup man. He gives the Red Sox the freedom to move Justin Masterson into the rotation if Terry Francona so chooses.

Ramirez had a 2.64 ERA with a 70-31 strikeout-walk ratio in 71 2/3 innings for the Royals in 2008. He also allowed only two home runs in those 71 2/3 innings, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the second-lowest home run rate in the American League this past season. Needless to say, teams are forever looking for high strikeout/low home run pitchers.

For his career, Ramirez has a 2.15 ERA in 105 innings outside Coors Field (he pitched for the Rockies in 2006 and 2007). He throws 93-95 mph with what the Red Sox believe is a power split and held right-handed batters to a .153 batting average and a .455 OPS in 2008.

Crisp had a .392 on-base percentage after the All-Star break this past season and played very well in a season in which he and Jacoby Ellsbury exchanged the roles of starter and extra man because of injuries to J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez. He is one of the better defensive center fielders in the game, and his .751 OPS in 2008 and his stellar defensive play are upgrades for the Royals -- whose center fielders had an OPS of .638 this past season.

The Red Sox surveyed what was a surprisingly small market for Crisp -- Cincinnati was the other club with the most interest -- and decided that with Jeremy Affeldt starting out the 2008 free-agent market by signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants, it likely will be easier to find another outfielder than secure a low-cost power reliever.

Why so few NL MVP votes for Hanley Ramirez?

November, 17, 2008
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It's not as if the Marlins existed in another universe; their 84-77 record was a half-game better than the Dodgers', and they did it in the best division in the National League -- the division with the world champions.

Albert Pujols deserved the Most Valuable Player Award. This is not to question anyone's vote for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Manny Ramirez or Lance Berkman.

But Hanley Ramirez 11th? Only Pujols and Berkman had more runs created. His OPS of .940 was the best of any NL middle infielder, better than Utley's .915.

Ramirez's job wasn't to drive in runs -- it was to create them. He reached base 40 percent of the time, hit 33 homers, stole 35 bases and led the league with 125 runs.

And he did it with average defensive skills at a critical defensive position.

***

The brilliant Rob Tracy of Elias Sports Bureau offers these lists:

Most runners on base when they came to the plate:

558 -- Justin Morneau

515 -- Garrett Atkins

508 -- David Wright

503 -- Mark Teixeira

498 -- Carlos Beltran

494 -- Jeff Francoeur

483 -- Ryan Howard

480 -- Carlos Delgado

Most Runners in Scoring Position:

268 -- Justin Morneau

267 -- James Loney

267 -- David Wright

261 -- Carlos Beltran

259 -- Ryan Howard

Morneau batted .348 with runners in scoring position; Howard .320.

***

• The Braves' deal for Jake Peavy is not dead. Sending Jose Ceda to Florida lessened the Cubs' chances. The Yankees are not in the running at all. Frank Wren still believes the Braves will get this trade done.

• Interesting how many GMs think that if the Dodgers get CC Sabathia, the Giants will get big into Manny Ramirez, and Billy Beane and the A's will continue to move fast on Rafael Furcal. Also, expect Toronto to make good on its promise to Milton Bradley that he is the Blue Jays' priority.

• One of Boston's priorities is to get young, and don't be surprised if the Red Sox move Coco Crisp for a reliever to allow Justin Masterson to start.

Brad Penny is so serious about his conditioning that, while he is off hunting in the Midwest, he has taken the trainer he hired from Athletes' Performance Institute with him.

• Brad Mills and Don Wakamatsu seem to be the favorites for the Mariners' managerial job. It's hard to be more qualified or be a better man than Mills.

• I'll bet you didn't know that baseball is the national sport of Finland.

• The Dodgers, understandably, haven't given up on getting Larry Lucchino to go west and bring their business into the 21st century. Frank McCourt has tried to move the franchise past the Industrial Age, but it has been a difficult process.

• Go to the Web site of "Strike 3 Foundation" -- strike3foundation.org -- and see what Twins reliever Craig Breslow does for the rest of his world. His Yale friends want to know how he had a 3.90 ERA at Yale and 1.91 ERA for the Twins. Check it out and be amazed.

Only big names unaffected by economic climate

November, 16, 2008
11/16/08
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In Saturday's New York Times, a report that the Yankees opened the bidding on CC Sabathia at $140 million was juxtaposed with a story that in Austin, Minn., 13 restaurants have Spam on their menus. The latter story speaks for the rough economic times.

Somewhere in the center, there is reality. Sports, of course, are not recession-proof. Oh, if you're Sabathia or Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira or Derek Lowe, you are pretty much immune from the worldwide economic crisis. But if you're not and you're a free agent this winter, you might feel some of the chills, just as baseball wonders about the impact.

The weather -- not the players or teams -- helped cause record-low television ratings for the World Series, and that worries Fox. But the signs of economic reality were everywhere. In Boston, the online ticket agency couldn't sell all the tickets that were offered back at face value for Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS, so the club has reversed field and frozen ticket prices for 2009. And in close to 20 cities, serious concerns exist about higher-level tickets, and those concerns possibly affect even the elegant new Yankee Stadium.

The Diamondbacks cut back on 31 business-side employees, then with a restricted budget made Randy Johnson an offer that left him feeling rejected. In a similar yet uncomfortable way, the Padres might have offered Trevor Hoffman all they had left in their bank account, but they left the face of that franchise feeling hurt.

But of course, there also are the Detroit Tigers, who in the heart of a depressed industry that begs the taxpayers for a bailout announced they will raise ticket prices despite finishing last with the second-highest payroll in the American League.

Maybe it'll be as simple as the Yankees' blowing everyone away on Sabathia with their opening bid, which could convince the Dodgers and Angels that they'll never be able to match the offer. Those teams instead would refocus on signing Ramirez and Teixeira, respectively. Yet the logic behind Hank Steinbrenner's announcement of the offer could be to scare others away.

But scaring people won't happen. Sabathia is in no rush. He went to a high school football game outside Houston on Saturday with Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson and other friends. And whether Steinbrenner realizes it or not, Sabathia will give the West Coast teams every opportunity to make him an offer that his family lifestyle cannot refuse. Signing him will take a while.

Sabathia is fascinated by the Dodgers and the Angels, and knowing the Dodgers are in it offers him the chance to make due diligence on his opportunities for his financial and familial futures. It's clear this weekend, as he relaxes with friends, that he isn't stirred up by the immediate frenzy.

Sabathia more likely impacts the Dodgers-Ramirez negotiations more than the Angels-Teixeira talks, although Boston's jumping in early on Teixeira is a story line that right now is hard to follow. The Braves might say they cannot include Jeff Locke and one or two other prospects to fill out the Jake Peavy deal, but what will it cost them to get in on A.J. Burnett or Lowe? That could play out for a long time.

Maybe the free-agency decisions will be as simple as Ryan Dempster's realizing he walks to work on Chicago's North Side and wants to stay there, and Burnett's deciding he likes the coaches and trainers and teammates in Toronto so much that he'll stay for four more years. The Yankees, Braves and others figure to make that virtually impossible, and as of Saturday morning, Burnett's agents had not received an offer from the Blue Jays. Maybe Lowe will line up the stashes offered by the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox and make a quick decision before getting married. It's not likely, but it is possible.

Brad Penny, who is working hard to get himself back into top condition, will do fine in free agency, assuming some risk. But clubs such as St. Louis, Boston, Texas, Toronto and others appreciate that Penny was 16-4 in 2007 and is in a market in which a number of clubs -- including the Astros -- have already let Mike Hampton know they have sincere interest in him. Because October is traditionally the month for power pitching, Ben Sheets, Burnett, Lowe and Penny are all potential postseason winners, so they're good options for teams looking to make a playoff push.

It sounds good to hear that the Yankees have made an offer to Sabathia, but signing him won't happen quickly.

"Because of the economy, which is going to get worse, there are a lot of mid- and lower-tier players who have to wait until January and could end getting a lot less than they expected," one general manager said. "But when it comes to the big names, Sabathia and Scott Boras are the two controlling factors. Sabathia can't lose, and Boras won't."

***

• Ken Williams is one of the winter's most significant wheelers and dealers. He is marketing Javier Vazquez, Bobby Jenks, Jermaine Dye and others as he tries to overhaul the White Sox. The Mets are afraid of the red flag on Jenks, whose strikeout rate has dropped precipitously from 50 in 39 1/3 innings in 2005 to 38 in 61 2/3 innings this past season. And although GM Omar Minaya checked in on Sabathia, it does not mean the Mets will get into a bidding war with the Yankees for the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner.

• Scouts in Arizona for the Arizona Fall League and the White Sox's minor league people are convinced that Gordon Beckham, the eighth pick in the MLB draft this past June, will be Chicago's everyday second baseman by June.

• The Rangers are setting a high bar for any of their catchers in a trade. The Tigers found the asking price on Gerald Laird too high, and Boston wouldn't part with either Clay Buchholz or two out of the Justin Masterson/Nick Hagadone/Michael Bowden trio for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Nolan Ryan is intrigued by Kerry Wood, but to afford Wood, the Rangers would have to deal Hank Blalock.

• The Marlins have found an interested market for Jeremy Hermida, including the Cubs, Rays and others.

• While the Tigers are out looking for a shortstop, Jim Leyland doesn't dismiss the idea of putting Brandon Inge back at the position at which he was a college All-American. Inge is athletic enough, and unlike at catcher, where he spent his time this past season, would play at a position he played while growing up.

A's rebuilding starts with Holliday

November, 11, 2008
11/11/08
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Oakland owner Lew Wolff came to call Billy Beane "Chicken Little" because his general manager had a global view of the world economy and saw some of what was coming. So as Beane began rebuilding the Athletics and traded valued veteran commodities like Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher, he stored away capital for when he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When this offseason began, while some of his peers were listening to the sincere fears of their owners, Beane had somewhere around $30 million to play with. So, first, he's making the trade for Matt Holliday, which will cost him $13.5M this season. And he may well make a run at Rafael Furcal, and maybe even Jason Giambi, if not others. And suddenly the Athletics, who won 74 games and were last in the American League in runs scored in 2008, will be interesting again.

In Beane's view, Holliday is a great player. Oh, he's represented by Scott Boras and will be a free agent at the end of the 2009 season, but Beane can either take the two compensatory draft picks or trade him in July and continue the building process while trying to restore Oakland to respectability.

Holliday is 29, and while some worry -- as they do about all Colorado players -- about his home/road splits (1.099/.856 OPS the past three seasons), check these overall numbers for 2006 to 2008: .329 average, 32 homers, 113 RBIs, .979 OPS. Holliday comes from a baseball family and loves the game. He is an extraordinary baserunner.

When Beane began looking around for offense, he talked to Boston about Jason Bay, but the price was prohibitive. But when it took Huston Street, Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez to get Holliday, Beane did not hesitate; it's taking longer to clear the paperwork than it did to tell Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd he would make the deal.

Beane knows he needs to build a foundation for his young, arriving pitchers like Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, James Simmons, Vin Mazzaro and others. Because when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito came up, Oakland had a good, competitive team around them. The Athletics have one of the best corps of young arms in the minor leagues, and need to get the offense moving again.

Anderson, Cahill and others will be pitching in Oakland come July, and if Holliday has jolted the offense and the A's can make a run at the Angels, then Beane can sit on Holliday the way he once sat on Giambi and Johnny Damon, take two more draft choices and continue the building. Or if the Athletics are not in contention, he will have Ryan Sweeney in center and perhaps Furcal at short and can see if the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals or someone else will make a huge run at Holliday and make a Mark Teixeira-type deal somewhere between what Texas got from Atlanta (five young players) and what the Braves got from the Angels (Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer).

As we see the Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies cut back their payrolls and as we wait for more teams to have their owners rein in their finances, this may be a good winter to have spent the previous 15 months being called Chicken Little.

Mets to build around core players

November, 4, 2008
11/04/08
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The Mets don't have the kind of money everyone thinks, especially having to pay Billy Wagner $10M next season. They will spend to get a starter, a reliever and a bat to supplement Ryan Church in right and the Daniel Murphy/Fernando Tatis platoon in left.

No one knows what impact the economy will have on baseball, especially in New York, but someone is going to pay a price for the national debt increasing by $450B in October. The Mets are not going to jump over the luxury tax threshold, so they will continue to build around David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, figure Mike Pelfrey will continue his quantum leap forward, and do their best to fill in around them.

Closer is their priority, and if Francisco Rodriguez doesn't drop down into the $10 million to 12 million range per season, the Mets will look to see if Brian Fuentes' makeup is suited for New York. After the past two years, a slow start in a new ballpark could be ugly for the Mets' players, who were savaged last season. They could get Jose Valverde, but not at the cost of Jonathon Niese, and they'll have to get in line with the Indians, Brewers and others for Huston Street.

Look, Wright is a great player; granted, next to Justin Morneau he came to the plate with more runners in scoring position than anyone in baseball, but he must learn to stop putting so much pressure on himself, relax and be himself. Reyes must go back to having a lot of fun and being himself. And as quixotic as Beltran can be, he is a great talent. And all three players are in their primes.

CC Sabathia has told friends he doesn't want to play in New York, and the Brewers are making a huge push. Manny Ramirez will get his money. Mark Teixeira will get his; there are people in Orange County who swear he's already asked about a particular house.

We don't know where anyone is going right now, not until the bidding begins at the end of next week. If it's all about money, sure, the Yankees are likely to end up with Sabathia no matter what. The Yankees and Red Sox will probably get in on Teixeira, but to what degree, no one knows.

FIVE OF THE MOST INTRIGUING FREE AGENTS:

    1. Rafael Furcal. If his shoulder checks out, the fact remains he put the Dodgers in position to make the playoffs by running his OPS over 1.000 until he got hurt on May 5.

    2. Derek Lowe. He is 36, but in great shape, physically and mentally. He's averaged 210 innings the past six years, is a world-class athlete and can get the Yankees and Red Sox into a bidding war. He is a better pitcher than when he left Boston after winning the series clinchers of the ALDS, ALCS and World Series in 2004.

    3. Raul Ibanez. His 338 RBIs the past three years are more than Ramirez (311), Teixeira (336) or Vladimir Guerrero; he is a leader, a tremendous person and a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat. It's nice that such a good person will get paid.

    4. Adam Dunn. He is spending the winter at Athletes Performance Institute trying to get into the best shape of his career. The Diamondbacks liked him; they're just not willing to spend the money, but they felt his on-base percentage and power and enjoyment of the pennant race were really good. Dunn wants to play for a contender, so Washington may be out.

    5. Milton Bradley. He'll be 31 in April, comes off leading the AL in OPS, and while he again had injuries that limited him to 414 at-bats, he is a big-time offensive force.

FIVE PLAYERS WE ARE WATCHING TO SEE IF THEY END UP ON THE TRADE MARKET:

    1. We know Jake Peavy is out there, but after seeing Tommy Hanson in the Arizona Fall League, one scout says, "I can see why the Braves won't put him in the Peavy deal. It likely will still happen, but replacing Hanson with Yunel Escobar and Jordan Schafer included will be difficult."

    2. Russell Martin. Some Dodger officials have spread the word that Martin will either be traded or moved to third base, with a Jason Varitek signing a possibility. Whether or not it actually happens will be interesting to see, but teams looking for catching, like the Red Sox, will do a headfirst dive to get in on Martin, who turns 26 in February. I've also heard that the Yankees are making a major push on Martin and Matt Kemp.

    3. Prince Fielder. He's 25 and has averaged 37 homers the past three years.

    4. Matt Cain. Whether it's Fielder or a combination of bats, if the Giants have to trade the 24-year-old right-hander, he might be the Josh Beckett of this offseason, despite his 30-43 career record.

    5. Robinson Cano. In 2007, Brian Cashman asked his staff about trading Cano and trading for Orlando Hudson, who has filed for free agency. Dealing Cano and signing Hudson could happen if Cashman is really in charge.

*****

The deadline trade sending Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles worked for Ramirez and Scott Boras, and it's justified because it worked and he hit in Los Angeles. Some folks make it sound as if all Manny wanted was to have the Red Sox guarantee his last two option years at $20M per year for 2009-2010. Wrong. Legacy Sports got the fee in that case, and Manny wanted out of the contract he signed with his former agent, Jeff Moorad.

Let's fast-forward to late in the 2014 season. At that point, Evan Longoria will have more than six seasons in the big leagues, and he will be playing on one of three club option years for $7.5M. Let's say he switches agents, and that new agent knows he -- the agent -- cannot collect the fee on the club options for 2015 at $11M and 2016 at $11.5M. If Longoria essentially decides to have a sitdown strike unless the Rays forget the two option years for 2015-2016 and instead allow him to enter the free-agent market at 29, can he cite the Ramirez precedent?

*****

• Brad Penny was shut down after 94 2/3 innings and a 6.28 ERA, a year after going 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA. He knows he needs to get in better shape, and has begun working at the API in L.A. He could be an intriguing signing for some team come January.

• If you're wondering about Jayson Werth's extraordinary athleticism, his mother, Kim, not only participated in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials (and lost out because of injuries), she still holds the Illinois state high school record in the women's 50-yard dash. OK, they don't run the 50-yard dash anymore, but it's still remarkable.

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