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Best back-burner moves

Big names dominate the Hot Stove, but don't overlook these key signings

Posted: Tuesday December 21, 2004 12:36PM; Updated: Tuesday December 21, 2004 4:38PM
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Forget Orlando Cabrera's fat four-year, $32 million contract, inked by the gluttonous Anaheim Angels. Bigger news from the baseball's free-agent world broke yesterday: The New York Daily News reported on Monday that Nelson De La Rosa has filed for free agency. Yes, the most unexpected relationship since Courtney Cox-David Arquette is over. Last week Pedro Martinez broke out in laughter when asked if De La Rosa, Martinez's famed Mini-Me, played a role as a good luck charm during Boston's World Series run, saying, "That was just a trick." Responded the jilted De La Rosa, "He broke my heart. That's not right what he said about me." He added, "I'm not going to the Mets unless some other Dominican ballplayer makes me an offer. And if the Yankees call me, I'll go with them."

Just when you thought that baseball's bizarre winter couldn't get stranger. The A's Big Three, as much a fixture of Oakland as the Bay Bridge, have disbanded. D.C. baseball is on the verge of collapse. And Anna Benson emerges as New York's hottest Page Six celeb.

A word about all the big moves from last week: out of all of them, the Braves dealing for Tim Hudson and Dan Kolb could turn out to be most significant. Kolb's addition allows John Smoltz -- a type-A personality who runs the team's rotisserie leagues and thinks he's been underutilized as the team's closer --  to go back to the rotation. Braves GM John Schuerholz from his home in Atlanta on Sunday as he was dog-sitting for his children: "I think that this rotation is capable of being the best we've ever had." A huge statement, of course, given Atlanta's pitching-proud history.

But in a winter replete with splashy headlines, here are this offseason's most overlooked moves:

Corey Koskie to the Blue Jays: When you're playing in the AL East, it's like you're one of those shows that competed for ratings on a Thursday night opposite Friends and Seinfeld. Koskie is not a franchise player who is going to carry Toronto to contention, but the sure-handed third baseman is going to be a tremendous clubhouse presence and reliable hitter for a young team that needs a steady veteran like him. Meanwhile, Koskie is the latest to bolt the Twin cities, and Torii Hunter isn't too happy about that, as he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "You want me to be honest? There is no way -- no way they can keep going like this," he said. "I think we still have young talent, but we don't have the talent to win a World Series. I think we can probably win the division. I'm not happy with that. I'm tired of losing in the first round. The only reason we lose in the first round is we don't have heart, we don't have players. Well, the way I'll put it is we don't have 'Ballers.'"

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Wade Miller becomes a free agent: The Astros righty became a free agent Monday when Houston declined to offer him a contract. He's going to be a nice catch on the market for a team still shopping for an arm. Miller, who was 31-12 in his first two full seasons for the Astros in 2001 and 2002, posted a 3.35 ERA in 15 starts before his season ended in June because of a rotator cuff injury.

Richard Hidalgo to the Rangers: Texas has thrown out some bad fielders into the outfield in recent years, and Hidalgo is a good defensive player. In one of the AL's great hitter's parks, Hidalgo should have no problem hitting 25 home runs in '05.

Mike Matheny to the Giants: San Francisco pitchers had big-time issues with A.J. Pierzynski's defense, and few catchers are sounder behind the plate than Matheny. An NL scout: "He's one of the most underrated players out there. Defensively he may be the best catcher in the game. There really aren't too many others I'd rather have."

Etc.

Nominations for fellow blogger Mark Bechtel's Idiot of the Week: Chad Pennington, Matthew Calamari, and the 14.7 million Americans that were suckered into sticking around for the final hour of the insufferable three-hour Apprentice finale, which dragged on longer than Titanic. This the payoff for viewers after we tolerated the likes of Ivana and Pamela for four months? It's a shame, really, because The Apprentice 2 was one of about two watchable reality shows out there and after a so-so season that mostly felt like a poor imitation of the great inaugural season, Apprentice 3 looks about as appealing as a reprise of The Biggest Loser. ... You'll hear differently from the onslaught of year-end Top 10 lists that are on their way as 2005 approaches, but the best movie of 2004 is Maria Full of Grace. A close second: Team America: World Police. ... A sampling of reader suggestions from last week's Worst Sequels list in this space: Godfather Part III, Ghostbusters II, Short Circuit 2, Grease 2, Slap Shot 2, the last two Star Wars movies, Blair Witch 2, and -- the best of all the submissions -- Weekend at Bernie's II.

Thanks again for reading, and a happy holidays to all.

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