Unconventional Wisdom: Winter meetings' wish lists
Only 11 of the 171 players who filed for free agency have signed contracts
The trade market has been more active, with Matt Holliday among those moved
There is likely to be more big-name player movement this week in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- As has been well-documented, the free-agent market has been extremely slow to develop; to date only 11 of the 171 players who filed for free agency have signed contracts. There is no word yet if Donald Fehr has asked Congress for a bailout.
It's already been quite the offseason for trades however, and the winter meetings are just beginning today. Among the notable names who have been dealt since the Phillies put the finishing touches on their World Series victory are Matt Holliday, Nick Swisher, Javier Vazquez, Coco Crisp, Huston Street, Khalil Greene, Mike Jacobs, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, Kevin Gregg and Greg Smith.
With the winter meetings opening today in Las Vegas, there is likely to be more player movement this week, and most executives and agents expect to see some of the bigger-name free agents begin to come off of the shelves during the four-day affair, along with the possibility of more trades being consummated.
Here is a team-by-team look at how the 30 clubs shape up at this point of the offseason, and what might be on their wish lists as they descend upon Las Vegas:
A second baseman to replace Orlando Hudson tops their priority list, and they may settle on a platoon of free-agents Damion Easley and Ramon Vazquez; they feel that free-agent Mark Loretta and the Cardinals' Adam Kennedy are too expensive. They'll make outfielder Eric Byrnes available, choosing to stay with Conor Jackson in left and Chad Tracy at first base, but with two years and $22 million left on Byrnes' contract and coming off a bad season shortened by a torn hamstring, he could be tough to deal. Catcher Miguel Montero could also be traded now that Chris Snyder has entrenched himself as a regular behind the plate.
They took a big step toward bolstering their rotation by acquiring Vazquez from the White Sox last week, and are now pursuing A.J. Burnett as a free agent, offering him a four-year contract with a vesting option for a fifth season that could make the deal worth at least $75 million. Derek Lowe is another free-agent starter possibility. They also would like to add a power-hitting corner outfielder, and have talked to the Cardinals about Ryan Ludwick, and the White Sox about Jermaine Dye.
While this is an organization in rebuilding mode, they continue to pursue two big-time free agents with Maryland ties: Burnett, who lives in Monkton, and first baseman Mark Teixeira, who grew up in Severna Park. The Birds are considered longshots to land either player, and most likely will settle for signing a couple of pitchers, perhaps one of the available Japanese free agents (such as Kenshin Kawakami or Koji Uehara), along with a lower-tier major leaguer to round out a rotation that's wide open behind Jeremy Guthrie. A defense-oriented shortstop, a la free agent Cesar Izturis, is another priority. "The Human Trade Rumor," second baseman Brian Roberts, figures to attract plenty of offers, and he could finally be moved.
Boston Red Sox
Teixeira is their top target, and if he is signed, Kevin Youkilis would be moved from first base to third, creating the awkward situation in spring training of showcasing popular third baseman Mike Lowell for trade as he comes back from hip surgery. They're also in on Burnett and Lowe, but won't overpay, as Justin Masterson is ready to be moved from the bullpen back to the rotation following the offseason acquisitions of relievers Ramon Ramirez and Wes Littleton. They also have starting pitching depth with Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and newly signed Junichi Tazawa in the system. They are looking for a young catcher, regardless of whether or not veteran Jason Varitek re-signs, along with a fourth outfielder and utility infielder. They would love to unload shortstop Julio Lugo, who has two years and $18 million left on his contract.
They struck quickly once the offseason began, re-signing Ryan Dempster for the rotation, telling closer Kerry Wood that he would not be re-signed, and trading for Gregg to join Jeff Samardzija as the primary set-up men for newly minted closer Carlos Marmol. They are still trying to trade for Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, despite already having five solid-or-better starters. A left-handed-hitting right fielder is also a possibility, and they are interested in free agents Raul Ibanez and Bobby Abreu, as well as the Royals' Mark Teahen and David DeJesus. They also figure to talk to the Orioles about Roberts; second baseman Mark DeRosa could be shifted to rightfield. Trading for Peavy would enable them to include a starter, possibly either Jason Marquis or Rich Harden, in a trade. Adding a rightfielder would move disappointing Koskue Fukudome into a centerfield platoon with Reed Johnson.
Chicago White Sox
They're cutting payroll and trying to become younger and more athletic following up on their surprise American League Central championship, and they're likely not done dealing after shipping out Swisher and Vazquez. Dye could be the next to go, and there are persistent rumors that he's headed to the Reds for underachieving pitcher Homer Bailey and a couple of prospects. They've decided not to re-sign third baseman Joe Crede or shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Instead they'll move second baseman Alexei Ramirez to shortstop, play rookie Chris Getz at second and have a spring-training competition between Josh Fields and 19-year-old Cuban sensation Dayan Viciedo at third base. Centerfield has been a revolving door in the three years since Aaron Rowand was traded, and they're more likely to bring in a stopgap rather than give more playing time to in-house options Brian Anderson, DeWayne Wise or Jerry Owens. Shoring up the bullpen is also on the to-do list.
A left-handed reliever to go with Bill Bray is needed after Jeremy Affeldt signed with the Giants as a free agent and Kent Mercker retired. They would also like to add a veteran catcher to share time with, or back up, rookie Ryan Hanigan. Dye seems to be their primary target in an attempt to add a corner outfielder with power. In addition to Bailey, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion is available.
Their extensive shopping list has a closer up top, and includes a starting pitcher, a third baseman and a leftfielder with power. While Jensen Lewis showed promise in the closer's role late last season, the Indians want a more experienced ninth-inning pitcher. With Jake Westbrook recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely out until the All-Star break, the rotation is thin beyond Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona. Andy Marte proved that he's not the answer at third base after Casey Blake was traded in July, and David Dellucci has provided minimal production in left field.
They would rather avoid going through salary arbitration with center fielder Willy Taveras, who is at the top of the list of players they need to move, and instead want to play Ryan Spilborghs in center, possibly re-signing Scott Podsednik to platoon with him. The White Sox, Yankees and Marlins have all inquired about Taveras. The current plan is for Ian Stewart to fill Holliday's spot in leftfield, but they could be in the market for a corner outfielder if third baseman Garrett Atkins is traded and Stewart is left at his natural position at the hot corner. Atkins' name has been linked in talks with the Twins, Angels and White Sox, but they want a large return for him because he's also their insurance at first base should Todd Helton be slow to recover from back surgery. Adding at least one left-handed reliever and a starting pitcher are priorities. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba is also very much available.
They need a catcher, a shortstop and bullpen help, but have no money to fill those holes, as the payroll is maxed out. At shortstop they have pursued the Pirates' Jack Wilson without success, and may instead go for a free agent, either Adam Everett or Alex Cora. Texas' Gerald Laird is their top catching target, though they also have interest in Montero and free-agent Gregg Zaun. They're also trying to trade for Mariners closer J.J. Putz and are eyeing a number of free-agent relievers, including Trevor Hoffman, David Weathers and left-handers Arthur Rhodes, Joe Beimel and Darren Oliver.
They have already shed such arbitration-eligible players as Jacobs, Gregg, Willingham and Olsen, and they're willing to go further by dealing catcher Matt Treanor and third baseman Jorge Cantu. They feel that Cantu is expendable and that slugger Dallas McPherson or speedster Emilio Bonifacio could man third base, though McPherson might also challenge prospect Gaby Sanchez to replace Jacobs at first. Right elder Jeremy Hermida's name has been prominent in trade rumors, but it appears that he's staying. There's a need for a right-handed-hitting catcher to platoon with John Baker, and they would love to sign free-agent Ivan Rodriguez if he's willing to accept a reduced role and a lower salary.
The priority is re-signing left-hander Randy Wolf for the rotation, but they must clear payroll space to do so, which is why third baseman Ty Wigginton and closer Jose Valverde are on the trading block. Other holes to fill are backup catcher and utility infielder, and they would still like to add more starting pitching beyond lefty Mike Hampton, who was signed as a free agent this past week.
Kansas City Royals
They have completed much of their shopping by trading for Crisp to play centerfield and Jacobs to play first base. However, they need to find right-handed relief pitching to replace those who were traded (Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez). They would like to add a veteran shortstop so that Mike Aviles could be switched to second base. They also wish to trade Teahen rather than to go through arbitration with him, but he would stay if they move first baseman Billy Butler or DeJesus in a bigger deal. Right fielder Jose Guillen is available, and there have been whispers that right-hander Zack Greinke could be had with an overwhelming offer.
Los Angeles Angels
Re-signing Teixeira is the first order of business. They would also like to pursue free agency's biggest prize, left-hander CC Sabathia, but only if they can't bring back Teixeira; both won't fit onto the payroll. Should Teixeira leave, the search for a power hitter will begin, with free-agent outfielders Manny Ramirez, Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn all under consideration. They're also trying to bring back outfielder Juan Rivera and Oliver, who both filed for free agency. Closer Francisco Rodriguez, starter Jon Garland and leftfielder Garret Anderson would only be welcomed back on club-friendly contracts.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The top two targets are Sabathia and Ramirez, who had a great finish to 2008 for the Dodgers after being acquired from the Red Sox on July 31. But they can only afford only one or the other, since they also need to acquire either a second or third baseman -- Blake DeWitt can fill one of those spots -- and perhaps also a shortstop, since Rafael Furcal isn't likely to re-sign. Outfielder Juan Pierre is there for the taking, but has three years and $28.5 million left on his contract.
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