Picks of the litter (cont.)
Posted: Thursday June 28, 2007 11:31AM; Updated: Thursday June 28, 2007 2:40PM
Curveball coming from the South Side?
After all the public discussion about possible trades, the White Sox are in serious negotiations with Mark Buehrle that could keep the left-hander on the South Side for four more years, or perhaps five. People familiar with the talks cautioned that a deal hasn't yet been finalized, but suggested that talks were more likely than not to lead to a contract extension for either four years or four years plus an option that should guarantee Buehrle about $50 million.
While all the public discourse in recent days centered on where Buehrle would be dealt, and several top evaluators from interested teams were still watching him on Wednesday night in Tampa, the White Sox's clear focus actually has been on trying to negotiate a new contract with the free-agent-to-be, sources said. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Wednesday that trade talks involving Buehrle had been called off, the first sign of progress in the secret negotiations toward an extension.
Those negotiations have been bumpy, and curiously, a person in Buehrle's camp told other media outlets on Wednesday that there have not been any talks in recent days. But that suggestion was contradicted to me by several sources. Plus, the Chicago Tribune reported on its website that Rick Hahn, a chief White Sox negotiator, was on his way to Tampa on Wednesday night, where Buehrle's agent Jeff Berry was watching his client pitch.
If there could be a holdup, it's surely over the price. The annual salary apparently being discussed is in the $12 million to $13 million range, a below-market deal considering last winter's free-agent prices, which included $18 million a year for Barry Zito, $15.7 million for Jason Schmidt and $11 million for Gil Meche. However, the Sox's stance is that while Buehrle is a terrific pitcher and deserving of more than the $11 million Javier Vazquez received from them in an extension this spring, he can't match Zito's heights, which include 20-victory seasons and a Cy Young award.
Assuming a contract gets done, it'll be a good deal for the Sox, who are used to getting their players signed to below-market contracts. Several teams called about Buehrle, but Williams felt he should get a blue-chip prospect back, and teams were unwilling to do that for a three-month rental. The Yankees, who are really focused on a first baseman, backup catcher and relief help, wouldn't give up pitching prospects Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy or Alan Horne. The Red Sox, also more interested in bullpen help, wouldn't surrender their best pitching prospect Clay Buccholz.
Williams felt that teams should have to part with a decent prospect for a front-line starter. "It wasn't too long ago we had to send prospects Seattle's way to get Freddy Garcia,'' Williams said earlier this week.
Perhaps it was the inability to get what he wanted from other teams that convinced Williams that what he already had was better than what was out there.
Around the Majors
While Buehrle is considering a very reasonable deal, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano may hit the jackpot this winter after being close to signing a contract for $80-85 million in early April, before the deal was yanked away thanks to the sale of the Tribune Company. One scout who recently saw Zambrano called his stuff "electric.'' If he hits the open market, Zambrano, who got off to a slow start, should top Zito's $126 million.
By phone, Williams provided about the strongest vote of confidence I think I've ever heard while discussing manager Ozzie Guillen and his coaches. "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. These guys are some of the best in the business, from the manager to the coaches to the trainers.'' Williams said. "I'm completely behind them. None of them has given up a run or taken an 0-fer. They're the same ones who helped us to a World Series title two years ago.'' Williams will also not claim that his team is much better than it has shown. "Evidently not,'' he said. ""You're only as good as how you play.''
It's been an odd season in many quarters. Take the Yankees -- please. "This is a bizarro season,'' Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "I can't explain what's happened.''
And it's not just them. It's happening all around the game. Can anyone believe that Andruw Jones is batting .197? Or that Carlos Delgado looks overmatched on a daily basis? Or that Bobby Abreu has been one of baseball's more impatient hitters at times?
It could be a bizarro trade-deadline season, as well. Nearly every team seeks relief help, and there's almost none to be found on the market so far. Unless Houston changes course and decides to dangle Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler, by far the best two relievers likely to be traded are Texas' Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka.
Bernie Williams and Jose Feliciano will play what's being billed as "A Peace, Hope and Unity Concert'' on Aug. 18 at The Paradise Theater, 2403 Grand Concourse, Bronx, N.Y. Following the 8 p.m. concert will be a half-hour play based on Ray Negron's best-selling children's book "The Boy of Steel,'' whose proceeds went to charities to aid children and cancer patients. Darryl Strawberry will act in the play. Actually, it might be a good idea if Williams and Strawberry were also playing two miles down the road, for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Big year for Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik. Manny Parra, the pitcher who recently threw a perfect game, was a late-round pick of Zduriencik, who's also responsible for Milwaukee's wonderful young infield (Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun).
One NL executive says the Braves might be better off giving the first-base job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia over Scott Thorman.
Another opined of the Braves' rotation; "After [John] Smoltz and [Tim] Hudson, they've got nothing.''