Burning questions for the Hot Stove
Posted: Monday November 5, 2007 3:00PM; Updated: Monday November 5, 2007 5:39PM
For quick fixes at this time of year, ballclubs have only two choices: buy a free agent or pull off a trade.
So far this offseason it seems as though teams are gravitating toward the latter while running away from the high-dollar free-agent market. But with all the new faces in front offices -- seven of the 30 teams have new general managers who weren't in charge at this time last year -- trades won't be that easy to come by, either.
This week in Orlando, GMs get their first facetime of the offseason with each other at their annual meetings, a kind of feeling-out free-for-all designed to take care of some league business (a discussion of instant replay is on the docket) while starting the ball rolling on all the talk. Not much is expected to actually get done -- I'm going out on a fairly sturdy limb here to predict that Alex Rodriguez will not sign a contract this week -- but all the chatting, for certain, will at least fire up the ol' Hot Stove.
Questions? Oh, there are tons of them to be answered over the next couple of months. Here are five that every GM worth his Bill James Handbook is trying to figure out right now:
1.) We know A-Rod's available for a few hundred million. Any other free-agent slugger of that caliber that might be a little cheaper?
Well, not of A-Rod's caliber. Just ask A-Rod. Or Scott Boras. But, if a team doesn't mind a little baggage, what about Barry Bonds? Certainly, he doesn't bring to the table what A-Rod does. Not anymore. But in 126 games last year, the Home Run King did have a 1.045 OPS with 28 home runs. You'd think, as a designated hitter, without the wear and tear of playing the outfield, he might be able to do even better than that in 2008. And he'd probably sign for a lot less than the $15.5 million he made in '07. That will be less than half the cost of A-Rod. Without the nagging long-term commitment, too.
After that, as far as sluggers go, things drop off dramatically in the free-agent market. Mike Lowell? He's better suited to a cozy right-handed hitting field like Fenway Park or Citizens Bank Park. Milton Bradley? Well, again, he's not a big-time power bat. Plus, he has health and clubhouse chemistry issues.
Torii Hunter? A great guy. He had 28 homers last year and a career-high 45 doubles. Would he qualify as a slugger, though? Then what about Andruw Jones? He hit 51 homers in 2005. But he's coming off his worst season in '07, with 26 homers, a .222 average and a .311 on-base percentage.
2.) Who is this year's Daisuke Matsuzaka?
It's a little early to find out who might be the next big-deal Japanese pitcher in America. We won't get a definitive list of Japanese free agents who are willing to play in the Major Leagues until after Nov. 12. There are some excellent Japanese baseball sites that discuss who might be available, if you want to go digging, including Japanesebaseball.com, which has a list of all those eligible for free agency.
The name that keeps popping up, pitcher-wise, is Hiroki Kuroda, a 33-year-old right-hander for the Hiroshima Carp. He has a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons with Hiroshima and, in 2006, led the Central League with a 1.85 ERA. He's probably not an ace-type in the Major Leagues -- of course, you can now say that about Boston's Matsuzaka, too -- but he is highly thought of in Japan and could slip into a rotation as a No. 3, according to this scouting report on Prospectinsider.com.
Kuroda would be different than Matsuzaka in one major way -- he is a free agent, so he wouldn't have to go through the posting system, which would make him a lot cheaper to American teams. Matsuzaka, who was not a free agent, was posted by the Seibu Lions last year, costing the Red Sox more than $51 million just to negotiate with him.
Another name to look out for is 33-year-old Masahide Kobayashi, a right-handed closer who is also a free agent. Maybe he's the next Takashi Saito?