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Room for improvement (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday January 3, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Wednesday January 3, 2007 12:48PM
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Barry Zito got a $126 million deal to go across the bay to San Francisco.
Barry Zito got a $126 million deal to go across the bay to San Francisco.
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6. Giants. If their youth movement appears to consist of one man (Barry Zito), it's a good one to have. Stat lovers find fault with Zito's WHIP (walks and hits per inning), but he's a winner, he's dependable, he knows the territory and his 3.55 ERA will go below 3 in the National League. Some folks didn't like the Barry Bonds signing, either, and if the complaint is that they don't want Bonds breaking the home run record, I fully understand. But Bonds is still a bargain at $16 million (compare him to $43 million for Gary Sheffield, for instance), assuming this deal finally gets finalized.
Improvement: 7 wins.

7. Brewers. They have better young talent than most realize, and Jeff Suppan may be one of a few pitchers who is worth the money. While he doesn't have overwhelming stuff, he is a winner (44 victories the past three years, three more than Zito). Owner Mark Attanasio seems determined to make Milwaukee relevant again.
Improvement: 6 wins.

8. Yankees. Andy Pettitte and Igawa are already in for Jaret Wright. And if Roger Clemens replaces Randy Johnson, that's even better. Sheffield didn't do anything last year, except look funny playing first base.
Improvement: 5 wins.

9 (tie). Orioles. They bulked up the bullpen, a generally undervalued area (although Danys Baez didn't exactly come for cheap).
Improvement: 4 wins.

9 (tie). Astros. I hate to imagine what Carlos Lee might look like six years from now. But the next couple years he'll spend familiarizing himself with the Crawford boxes.
Improvement: 4 wins.

9 (tie). Cardinals. They're a lot better than they showed in the regular season, obviously. Nice work on getting Chris Carpenter, a true No. 1, locked up.
Improvement: 4 wins.

Around the Majors

• People around baseball don't see much chance that the Yankees will bring back Randy Johnson after going to all this trouble to be rid of him. As reported in this space Saturday, excising Johnson will enhance their chances to land Roger Clemens, who they'd like to get on the field much earlier than when he started in 2006 (June 22), maybe even in April or early May. But if Clemens does come, don't expect him to agree to spend his whole spring in Tampa with the team.

• The Yankees have turned down Arizona's request to have a window to work out an extension, but that shouldn't prevent the D'backs from doing a deal with Johnson. A one-year extension for $10-12 million shouldn't be that complicated.

• If the Yankees get the package they want -- say Ross Ohlendorf, Micah Owings and Luis Vizcaino -- they may be willing to pay a few million toward Johnson's $16 million 2006 salary. But if they get only two of the players on their A-list, they'd want Arizona to pay the full salary.

• The Mets are using Lastings Milledge as their main trade bait after losing out on Zito (by $51 million, as it turns out -- $126 million to $75 million). But Milledge's value has slipped after an uneven rookie season. They are adamant about keeping Mike Pelfrey and reluctant to trade Aaron Heilman. The San Francisco Chronicle suggestion of Milledge for Joe Blanton doesn't seem outlandish considering Milledge's slip in value.

• The Mets had to overpay a few years ago to get players. But now they must feel they can lure players despite lowball offers. If they thought as little as $75 million would land Zito after it took $55 million for K.C. to sign the likes of Gil Meche, they have to be feeling a little frisky. However, the $126 million figure was yet another negotiating coup for agent Scott Boras.

David Newhan, an outfielder who plays the game right (and who gets extra points here because his father is the esteemed Los Angeles Times baseball columnist Ross Newhan), appears likely to sign soon with the Mets.

Carlos Zambrano is the greatest beneficiary of Zito's megadeal, and he should probably thank Boras, his first agent, as well as the current agent duo of Scott Shapiro and Barry Praver, for not rushing into a deal. Five months ago, after Roy Oswalt signed, Zambrano looked like a $65 million pitcher. Now, assuming a productive walk year, he could be a $150-million pitcher.

• Bad day at the office dept.: Agent Larry Reynolds suffered a several-million dollar setback when Ryan Howard fired him this week. Larry's brother, Harold, was fired months ago from his plum $1-million-a-year ESPN analyst job after an accusation of sexual harassment. As someone pointed out, the Reynolds family could use a hug. Sorry, couldn't resist.

• Best wishes to Bobby Murcer, the former Yankees star and current YES broadcaster who had surgery last week to remove a brain tumor. There isn't a more likable fellow involved in the game than Murcer.

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