First things first (cont.)
Posted: Monday November 5, 2007 11:49AM; Updated: Monday November 5, 2007 5:44PM
A-Rod: Three up, one down
Three teams that appeared to move up this week in the Race for A-Rod:
1. Mets. General manager Omar Minaya, who loves the big fish, revealed on ESPN-1050 that he has already talked to cornerstones David Wright and Jose Reyes, apparently telling them that while he loves them there are no guarantees that they'll remain at third base and shortstop, respectively. If the Mets take the big leap on A-Rod, the most logical play would be to move Wright either to second or first. Boras has an excellent working relationship with the Mets now, and folks are wondering why A-Rod went house hunting in Greenwich, Conn., and near Fifth Avenue if he was planning to opt out of his Yankees deal. However, the Mets-owning Wilpons have done well to keep their payroll at reasonable big-market levels to the extent that they have yet to pay a dime in luxury-tax monies.
2. Tigers. There's some buzz now that owner Mike Ilitch might make a play for Rodriguez even while general manager Dave Dombrowski is throwing cold water on the idea in public (Dombrowski apparently doesn't believe teams should devote more than 17 percent of their payroll to any one player). This is nothing new for these two. Dombrowski would have drawn a harder line with three previous free agents -- Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers -- but was overruled by Ilitch, who's pleased with the output of all three of those Boras-represented players and doubly pleased that the Tigers are no longer viewed by star free agents as a last resort. Ilitch is deep-pocketed these days, as Detroiters keep pouring money into his wife's casinos, causing him to rise to a rank of one of the baseball's two or three richest owners (he's back on the Forbes 400 list, at No. 297 with $1.6 billion). One caveat: A-Rod might be tough for the Tigers considering MLB's debt-service rule.
3. Yankees. A-Rod would still welcome the chance to stay, and there's really no good reason for the Yankees not get back into it as they need a cleanup hitter and third baseman. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times suggested on Sunday that the Yankees may yet be keeping the door a tiny bit ajar after emotionally bidding A-Rod adieu on the opt-out day, and Columbia University law professor Jeffrey N. Gordon, in a guest column in the Times, suggested the Yankees had no good reason not to get back into the bidding and that A-Rod's World Series-timed opt-out strategy may have been rushed to precede the announcement of Joe Girardi so as not to insult the new Yankee manager. But as Kepner noted, Rodriguez now may have to consider a cut from what the Yankees sought to offer before Rodriguez opted out, which seems farfetched.
And one team that appears to have moved down:
1. Cubs. A-Rod's mentor and friend Lou Piniella was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times saying, "His name hasn't ever come up. I don't think there's anything there.'' I never bought them as a realistic choice, anyway, considering they already have a young star at third base in Aramis Ramirez -- not to mention an unsettled ownership situation.
Rockies: Atkins staying
The Rockies are not interested in trading third baseman Garrett Atkins and instead plan to try third-base prospect Ian Stewart at second, a Rockies source said. The removal of Atkins from the trade market limits the Yankees' top-tier options to replace Rodriguez. Joe Crede and Miguel Cabrera have been mentioned as other possibilities.
Stewart could replace Kazuo Matsui, who is a free agent, at second. The Rockies' reports on Stewart at second have been decent so far, including one from ex-Orioles second baseman Rich Dauer.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt never should have had poor Grady Little twist in the wind while he tried to find a better alternative. McCourt sought to replace his manager for weeks, beginning not long after issuing the dreaded, and as it turns out, worthless, public vote of confidence. Little's Dodgers team underperformed and his clubhouse was unusually divided between some self-centered veterans and some rookies who believed their press clippings. Those involved in the situation said Little's undoing came when club higherups requested he suggest a few solutions, and he came up empty. Little's decision to step down was described as "mutual,'' and it may well have been, but the Dodgers definitely were not opposed.
One person said an early consideration to replace Little (as far back as during the season) was Dusty Baker -- a Dodgers player better known for managing the Giants -- before Baker took the sure job in Cincinnati. And perhaps that is why the commissioner's office gave the Dodgers a pass on the minority requirement (that plus their diverse front office that includes well-regarded assistant GMs DeJon Watson and Kim Ng).
McCourt is awfully slick. But shopping for a manager when you already have one is not something even an inveterate slickster can get away with. In any case, Little deserved better. It was like he was the third choice, or fourth, or fifth for his own job.
By the time Little left or was forced out, the Dodgers were pursuing both Girardi and Torre. Girardi was actually an even better fit for the Dodgers, as they viewed him as a guy who could grow with the young team. Torre isn't a bad second choice at all, though. If anyone can cure a clubhouse division, it is Torre.
Torre's coaching story
Torre, whose press conference is today in L.A. (I predict everyone will love him; no one gives better press), is bringing Don Mattingly as a coach. And it is believed he also will be bringing Larry Bowa, who probably deserved his own interview for the Yankees' managing job. Another ex-Yankee coach who could join Torre is Lee Mazzilli, a Torre favorite who's been working as a TV analyst at the Mets' network, SNY. Holdover Dodger coaches reportedly will include Rick Honeycutt and Mariano Duncan, who was on Torre's championship team in 1996.
By coincidence or design, the Dodgers are becoming a conglomerate of ex-Yankees and Red Sox, possibly reflecting McCourt's Boston roots. The ex-Yankees will now include Torre, Mattingly, Bowa, perhaps Mazzilli and Duncan, plus front-office execs Ng and Marty Greenspun. The ex-Red Sox include Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe and ex-hitting coach Bill Mueller, who could remain in another capacity.
Around the Majors
On the belief that Eric Gagne simply couldn't adjust to the setup role, the Rangers are expected to come back after him to be their closer following a dreadful performance in Boston's bullpen. Red Sox people were perplexed by Gagne's struggles, as he was still throwing 94 mph and still had a dynamic changeup, yet couldn't help them much en route to their title.
The Tigers are another team that may consider Gagne. They looked into a deal for him before Boston pried him away from the Rangers but were told then that Gagne only wanted to close for them. But now with Todd Jones a free agent and Joel Zumaya out until at least June with a severe should injury, Gagne may be a better fit.
Zumaya was told by doctors that he has a 90-95 percent chance at a full recovery after they rebuilt the AC joint in his pitching shoulder. However, this is a very rare injury in baseball. The one player known to have had the same problem to the same extent previously was Ken Caminiti. Zumaya has said that he injury the shoulder when a box fell on it as he attempted to rearrange items in preparation for the California wildfires. Zumaya lives in the San Diego area.
Tony Pena, Kevin Long and Rob Thomson are expected back as Yankees coaches. Dave Eiland, who did a terrific job tutoring Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes in the minors but is still best known by Yankees writers as the fellow who remained unknown to Rickey Henderson after he'd been in the Yankees' clubhouse for weeks, is expected to replace Ron Guidry as pitching coach.
The Yankees are looking to add Girardi's former teammate and coach Mike Harkey as bullpen coach and Padres coach Bobby Meacham, who was once famously sent from the majors to Double-A by George Steinbrenner, to Double-A, as the final coach.
Regarding the reported discussion of Johnny Damon for Joe Crede that was first mentioned in the Chicago Tribune, one GM said he thought there'd actually more of a market for Damon than that. If healthy, Crede is an excellent defender with power, in the Graig Nettles mold, but Crede's back ailment that limited him to 47 games apparently limits his trade value now.
Minaya said the Mets will seek Jorge Posada, but Mets people still know it's an uphill battle to lure him out of the Bronx.
What a big relief it had to be for Willie Randolph when Torre got the Dodgers job. It's enough to have suffered through the Mets' collapse, he didn't need Torre hanging around New York without a job.
The GM meetings, which begin today, are spiced up by a new roster of GMs, including Tony Reagins in Anaheim, Neal Huntington in Pittsburgh, Frank Wren in Atlanta, Michael Hill in Florida, John Mozeliak in Atlanta, Ed Wade in Houston and Bill Smith in Minnesota.
One rumor I'm believing is the Rangers and Torii Hunter. Makes plenty of sense to me.
2 of 2