Winter meetings preview (cont.)
4. Manny Ramirez
It appears he's going to have to be patient. The Dodgers, the team that badly needs him, isn't anxious to spend yet. And at 36, even after his superhuman saving of the Dodgers' season, he appears to be a fallback option for a couple big spenders, including the Angels and his hometown Yankees (he's from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, just across the East River from the Bronx), who can't be counted out here, either. While Ramirez doesn't crave to go home like Sabathia, he does admire the dollar, and has said -- and shown -- he's ready to go the highest bidder, whomever that may be.
5. Rafael Furcal
Shortstop extraordinaire Rafael Furcal could be the first big-name free-agent to sign. Furcal took a tour in Oakland without saying anything bad about that city (his agent, Paul Kinzer, said he was "fine'' with Oakland, which shows that not all agents gush inappropriately), and saw Renteria take his other Bay Area option away.
6. The Cubs' plans
They brought back their own fine reliever-turned-starter Ryan Dempster and have been attached to Raul Ibanez, Bobby Abreu, Furcal and ballyhooed trade target Jake Peavy, but some agents are getting the idea they may not be rushing into any more big deals, not while the ownership situation remains unsettled. And imagine what it must be like to try to sell a billion-dollar team these days, when nobody's even buying a car. One competing owner said he could see the Cubs, who are shopping Jason Marquis, even trying to cut budget.
7. The closers' market
The market for closers will open up, but maybe not immediately. The Mets are the one major-market team desperately seeking a closer, and they appear to be in no hurry to set the market. They have four very nice options to weigh, and it appears they will take the meetings to meet with most of those options. The options include two major save record holders and are, in order 1) single season save champion Francisco Rodriguez, 2) hard-throwing left-hander Brian Fuentes, 3) even harder-throwing Kerry Wood, and 4) a combo of all-time save record holder Trevor Hoffman and new Colorado Rockie Huston Street, whom they've been pursuing (they offered Aaron Heilman straight-up for Street, and the New York Post reported that the Rockies countered with a request that lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano be thrown in; but one person familiar with the talks said things seem to be "loosening up'' a bit on the trade front).
Mariners closer J.J. Putz could be a fifth option, but previous targets Bobby Jenks of the White Sox and Jose Valverde of the Astros appear to be long shots now. Waiting in the wings are the Indians, Rangers and a couple other small-to-medium spenders to grab the best leftovers. The Brewers could also become players for a closer if they can't lure Sabathia back into the fold.
8. The outfield market
Little has been said about a pretty decent market for slugging outfielders. While nobody's going to find a star center fielder (or even a starting center fielder) out there, there are some pretty productive corner outfielders, led by Adam Dunn (40 homers five straight seasons), Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez. Though Ibanez is seen as a chic pick and a "late bloomer,'' and appears to be drawing the most early interest, his career doesn't come close to matching the other three, especially Abreu, whose weaknesses have been overanalyzed in New York (so what if he won't crash into walls? It's helped keep him healthy). The truth is Abreu's been one of the most productive players in the game. Not only he is one of three players with 100 RBIs each of the last six seasons (joining the game's two best players, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols) but Abreu is also one of only three players in baseball history with 200 homers, 300 steals and a .400 on-base percentage. The others are Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson. It's uncertain whether any of this quartet of producers finds their deal as early as the Winter Meetings, but eventually all of them should attract solid interest.
9. A.J. Burnett
Burnett is a terrific talent who's drawn several four-year offers and whose agent, Darek Braunecker, says has a five-year bid as well. The main players appear to be the Yankees, Orioles, Nats, Jays and Braves. The Nats can't be ruled out as a five-year bidder, but the new favorite appears to be the Braves, who already made a bold trade this week with the White Sox for starting pitcher Javier Vazquez and are looking for more after seeing their once-vaunted rotation decimated by age and injury in 2008. The Braves' first offer was said to be for four years and a vesting option for a fifth, but eventually they may accede to the full five.
10. Derek Lowe
While he's 35, he's also consistent, durable and clutch and won at least 12 games each of the past seven seasons. Beyond that, executives with teams chasing him, remarked that Lowe has "turned his life around,'' which sounds like a pretty nice recommendation. With few knocks against him, he has an asking price of $18 million over at least five years and about 10 teams chasing him. But he seems to miss the East Coast intensity. That could mean the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets and Phillies are the favorites, with his former team, the Red Sox, perhaps eyeing a return to pitch in baseball's most-heated rivalry. Cashman visited with Lowe's agent, Scott Boras, on Thursday and expressed "heavy interest.'' What that means is that the Yankees haven't quite hit the magic number yet.
11. Jake Peavy
The Padres will keep trying to trade the former Cy Young winner. But perhaps they missed their best chance when they couldn't quite agree on a deal with the Braves a few weeks back. It's possible that Atlanta could get back into it if it fails to land Burnett. But recently, the Padres most oft-stated option is the Cubs, a team that may not be sure whether it can go ahead with a monstrous trade like that due to its unsettled ownership situation. It appears now that there's an outside possibility that the Padres could be stuck with Peavy. Ah well, there are worse fates than that.