Archrivals lead hunt for Manny
Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants both in chase for Manny Ramirez
Dodgers still the likely favorite, but Giants making a serious run at him
Mets want groundballer Lowe for what could be hitter's park at Citifield
Well known for bold free-agent signings and boosted by a solid financial situation, the San Francisco Giants look like a major threat to steal superstar free agent slugger Manny Ramirez away from the archrival Dodgers.
While the Dodgers are probably still considered the favorite to retain Ramirez, the Giants are making a serious run at him. Ramirez might be exactly what the Giants need to be taken seriously as a threat in a winnable National League West. San Francisco already has as good an under-25 pitching tandem as there is in the game with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, a very nice overall rotation and a well-fortified bullpen with the signings of Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry. Ramirez could actually tilt things toward the Giants in a division where a couple teams have taken a step backward (and the Dodgers would be the third if they lose Manny).
The Giants are in excellent position to outbid the cautious Dodgers if so inclined. San Francisco has an excellent TV situation and has now paid off more than half its debt on its beautiful franchise-owned AT&T Park. Several of the team's deep-pocketed 30 owners could buy and sell Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. The Giants showed they will still spend if they must when they ponied up $18.5 million for aging shortstop Edgar Renteria, but they are still badly in need of offensive juice.
Outfield may not look like the Giants' main need. But the Giants were able to ride the greatness of one special offensive player to consistent contention for over a decade, so they've seen that formula work before. While Ramirez is no choir boy, having had some issues that led to his trade to Los Angeles in the first place, he's easier to deal with than Barry Bonds.
Giants management has been quizzing people throughout the game and within their organization, and they are hearing a lot of good things regarding Ramirez (they must not have talked to a certain Boston traveling secretary). From their own ranks, J.T. Snow, one of the best-respected former Giants, raved about Ramirez. As did longtime Giants scout Ted Uhlaender, who was with the Indians during the Manny era there.
With two rivals racing for Ramirez, he's likely to get at least three years at the second highest salary in baseball, behind his good friend Alex Rodriguez, though not the five or six years he sought. It'll be interesting to see whether anyone else joins the West Coast rivals in the derby, which still appears to be in the early stages (one executive estimated that they're only in the "third or fourth inning'' of this high-stakes game).
The Texas Rangers are said to be "intrigued,'' according to one person familiar with their thinking. As a potential replacement for the departed Milton Bradley, "he's an excellent fit'' for them, one AL executive said. Unlike in Los Angeles or San Francisco, he could also DH for Texas.
The Yankees were always split on Manny, with Hank Steinbrenner and A-Rod completely in his corner but others not so much ("Hal never would have gone for it,'' one executive said of the more serious Steinbrenner, who much preferred Mark Teixeira, whose rep is spotless), and they are presumed out after their spending spree. The Mets met with Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, apparently without even broaching the Manny topic, and Angels GM Tony Reagins again succinctly said "no'' when asked in a phone interview this week whether they intend to pursue Ramirez.
That could leave three or perhaps only two suitors. But as far as Ramirez is concerned, it could be at least a powerful duo, considering the Giants are the last place the Dodgers would like to see Ramirez wind up.
Mets: Lowe-ball pitcher needed
A secret batting practice session with David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans last September at Citifield convinced all the players that the Mets' new home won't be the pitching park Mets people expected, but rather a launching pad for home runs. And some within their hierarchy have used this inside knowledge to stump for Lowe, a groundball pitcher, suggesting he might work better than Oliver Perez, a flyball pitcher.
Lowe is far from a certainty to join the Mets, however. He is in play for the Braves and quite possibly the under-the-radar Phillies. The Brewers and Angels are outside possibilities (the Red Sox have to be out now after signing Cooperstown-bound John Smoltz).
At this point, Lowe appears most likely ticketed for one of those three NL East teams. The Braves still have $60 million to $80 million left over from what they didn't spend on A.J. Burnett. But if Lowe goes to the world champion Phillies, that would give them a superb five-man rotation and put them in a dominating position to win the division for the third straight year.
Even so, the Mets don't appear to be all in for Lowe to this point. GM Omar Minaya, who met with Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado during their recruitment periods and plans to meet soon with Pedro Martinez, has yet to meet with Lowe, who has huddled with the Braves and Phillies already.
It seems that while some Mets people have stumped hard for Lowe, Minaya prefers the young left-hander Perez, which might explain their lukewarm $36-million, three-year offer to Lowe. Unless they change their stance, maybe Minaya will get his wish and be able to go after Perez after all.
Around the Majors
The Yankees are looking to trade either Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher. But from here, Swisher would be difficult to deal, with $20 million left and coming off a .219 season. The Braves and Pirates showed some interest before the Yankees took him as logical first-base insurance. While Nady is a year from free agency, his market should be much stronger.
The Giants are looking at free-agent third baseman Joe Crede, as are the Twins and Rangers.
Freddy Garcia is being pursued by the Mets, White Sox and Rangers. Garcia shut things down in the Venezuela Winter League but his MRI revealed no damage to his shoulder.
The Orioles and Mets appear to be leading the pack for solid starter Tim Redding. The Mets would make sense as four of his last 13 wins have come against the Phillies. The Dodgers, Rangers, Brewers and Rockies are other candidates for Redding.
Redding's agent, Tom O'Connell, is a modern day miracle worker. He got a $1.5 million guaranteed deal with Carl Pavano that also includes $5.3 million in incentives. That seems like an absurd amount of money for the American Idle (so named by the New York Post), so much so that if it were almost anyone but Cleveland, I'd be ready to question it. But their executives are smart, and maybe they know something I don't know about Pavano. One thing that should help is the incentive package. If he was lacking one thing in New York, it was incentive.
The Dodgers' most likely replacement for Lowe and Brad Penny may be Randy Wolf.
The Red Sox's signing of John Smoltz for $5 million guaranteed plus another $5 million in incentives may sound like a steep price for a pitcher coming off serious shoulder surgery. But if Boston's going to gamble, the future Hall of Famer is worth the risk.
Rocco Baldelli is another great signing for Boston at only $500,000 guaranteed, plus incentives. (The Pirates are believed to have offered more guaranteed money.) But Baldelli's mitochondrial condition, even if somewhat better than first believed, limited him to about six innings at a time last year. He also didn't feel comfortable in center field, so Boston may still need a center fielder.
The Red Sox had been looking at Eric Hinske. But he may not be a perfect fit now that they probably need a centerfielder. Hinske had a terrific year with the Rays in 2008 (20 home runs) but is caught up in a market flooded with power hitters. At least one team in Japan has allegedly shown interest in him.
The Rays don't expect to do anything major after Pat Burrell's bargain signing for $16 million over two years. His other offers were generally for $5 million over one year, so it's hard to blame him for jumping on the Rays' offer, even if it meant taking a 40 percent pay cut.
Speaking of Teixeira, he really knows how to do a press conference. Meanwhile, Milton Bradley should have watched Teixeira. Bradley's agents got him a fine deal after his career year ($30 million with the Cubs) but he needs agents who are willing to tell him when he's wrong. Or at least willing to coach him for a press conference. His comment that "there's a lot of dishonesty in baseball,'' in particular, came off as overly negative and an excuse for his terrible history of indiscretions and blowups.
Word is, Jeff Moorad, who just stepped down as Diamondbacks CEO, is in excellent position to buy the Padres. "Jeff's a smart guy. He wouldn't have left Arizona if he wasn't pretty sure he was getting the Padres,'' one baseball person said. Moorad, previously known as an attention-seeking agent who upset baseball executives by airing the Manny Ramirez negotiations in late 2000 on ESPN, has resurrected his reputation by doing an excellent job in Arizona. After initially involving himself in deals for Russ Ortiz, Troy Glaus and Shawn Green in Arizona, Moorad quickly learned to let his excellent baseball people do their jobs. That's no small thing. That's a lesson some owners and general partners don't ever learn.