Epstein, Minaya and Boras headline this winter's movers and shakers
Omar Minaya needs to have a big winter or he won't get another one as Mets GM
Some think that new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts wants to do something big
At least 12 teams are showing interest in Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman
Everyone knows who the top players are on the free-agent and trade markets this winter: John Lackey, Matt Holiday, Jason Bay, Roy Halladay and perhaps Adrian Gonzalez. But who are the players behind the players? With a week to go before the start of the winter meetings in Indianapolis, here are the players who are expected to be the real movers and shakers this winter ...
1. Theo Epstein, Red Sox GM. His competitive juices have to be boiling over after the rival Yankees won for the first title in his tenure. Expect Boston to be connected to every major player out there, from Halladay to Lackey to Gonzalez to Holliday to Aroldis Chapman. The chances to keep Bay appear to be diminishing, as outside suitors line up following his rejection of Boston's $60 million, four-year bid. But Red Sox people still seem determined to land a big-time offensive player. You know Epstein loves Hanley Ramirez, the former Red Sox farmhand traded during his hiatus, but there's still no evidence Florida will consider trading him.
2. Omar Minaya, Mets GM. There's pressure aplenty after the Mets' disastrous inaugural season in Citi Field. Injuries were the main culprit, but the reality is that he needs to have a big winter or he won't get another one in this job. What's odd is that he was roundly applauded at the winter meetings last year when he landed Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz in short order. Needs to fill holes in left field, first base, catcher, the rotation and bullpen this time. Also trying to be rid of Luis Castillo's contract, presumably so they can sign Orlando Hudson or Chone Figgins.
3. Tom Ricketts and Jim Hendry, Cubs owner and GM. Some folks came away from the owners meeting with the distinct impression new owner Ricketts wants to do something big. But as one owner pointed out, new owners don't often rock the boat with big-money signings. Whatever they do, Hendry will keep endeavoring to undo the big deal of last winter, the one where they paid $30 million for talented but troubled outfielder Milton Bradley. He "has to go," one Cubs official said. So far, the Rangers are believed to be offering to pay no more than a few million of the $21 million remaining. The Rays, Giants, Padres and Royals are other possibilities.
4. Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays GM. The 32-year-old newcomer is off to a good start by saying he's willing to consider trades inside the division. No way can Toronto cut off the Yankees and Red Sox and hope to get close to equal value for Halladay. So it never made sense to eliminate them.
5. Scott Boras, agent. Holliday is the big name in this year's stable, and while no one expects him to get close to Mark Teixeira's $180 million deal of a year ago, he should easily top $100 million based on past deals. One owner said he isn't sure yet where that would be coming from, but there are plenty of possibilities, starting with the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and perhaps the Yankees, Giants ("I'm not counting them out, despite what they say," one competing GM said) and Mariners. Boras will get plenty of play on ageless Johnny Damon, versatile reliever Mike Gonzalez, third baseman Adrian Beltre and lefty pitcher Jarrod Washburn, but will have to work harder on Garret Anderson, Felipe Lopez, Hank Blalock, Ivan Rodriguez, Rick Ankiel (Pittsburgh?), Joe Crede (Baltimore?), Scott Schoeneweis, Bruce Chen, Eric Gagne, Julian ("closing time") Tavarez and Xavier Nady.
6. Jack Zduriencik, Mariners GM. After doing such a superb job his first year on the job (the trade of Putz, the one to acquire David Aardsma and the signing of Russell Branyan were all unmitigated successes, as was the hiring of manager Don Wakamatsu), they may entrust him to do much more. The Mariners will try to lock up Felix Hernandez but also hope to import one of a number of other big stars, as well (Lackey, Bay or Holliday are candidates).
7. Steve Hilliard, agent. Some say he'll do well to get A.J. Burnett's contact ($82.5 million, five years) for client Lackey. But the truth is, Lackey is a more dependable pitcher who's been the No. 1 guy for a perennial playoff team. He is tougher and better than Burnett.
8. Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak, Cardinals owner and GM. No National League team has anywhere near a roster of free agents like this (Holliday, Mark DeRosa, Joel Pineiro, Ankiel, Troy Glaus, Khalil Greene). They have said they will try to retain Holliday and DeRosa, but it appears they will let the others leave, ensuring a major puzzle. They must keep in mind that Albert Pujols is a free agent two years from now (they couldn't possibly forget that).
9. Arte Moreno and Tony Reagins, Angels owner and GM. Moreno took the unusual step of announcing he's interested in Bay but not Holliday, raising the question of whether he's still annoyed by how the Teixeira negotiations went a year ago (he abruptly pulled out of them after suggesting he didn't believe Boras for saying their $160 million bid was at or near the bottom of the bids). This is one of baseball's best-run franchises. But they have some big decisions at hand. Reagins said he's "hopeful" to keep Figgins. They would like to retain Lackey, as well, though that may be a long shot. Vladimir Guerrero doesn't appear like a priority for now.
10. Joe Urbon, agent. Bay's rep called his client the "most complete" player on the market, tweaking Boras while drawing needed attention to his client, who generally thrived in Boston after doing the same in Pittsburgh. Defensive metrics may slightly hurt Bay, but even Red Sox people question the validity of those numbers in Fenway's cozy left field.
11. Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin, Brewers owner and GM. Milwaukee couldn't replace CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets on the cheap last winter and will try to rebuild a starting staff into one that befits their fine everyday nucleus. They are looking at Lackey, Randy Wolf, Rich Harden, Washburn, Doug Davis, Todd Wellemeyer and Mark Mulder. The small-market team that stunned folks by drawing more than three million fans will also try to lock up slugger Prince Fielder.
12. Ruben Amaro, Phillies GM. The Phillies remained aggressive from last winter (Raul Ibanez) to the summer (Cliff Lee), and while they want to keep their payroll in the $140 million range, lots of interesting possibilities abound. They are looking for a third baseman to replace Pedro Feliz, and while the favorites look to be DeRosa, Placido Polanco, Beltre and Miguel Tejada, they've also considered the pricier Figgins. One person familiar with their dealings said they also had a brief talk with the Red Sox about Mike Lowell, but that possibility doesn't seem as likely as one of the free agents.
13. Greg Landry, agent. The rep for Halladay carries the potential to be in the middle of trade negotiations involving Halladay as the pitcher could wield his no-trade clause to 1) go where he wants, or 2) extract a long extension. The latest word, via the Toronto Sun, was that an official with the Blue Jays said Halladay wants to go to the Yankees. Sources suggest that Halladay was actually willing to go to at least the Yankees plus the Red Sox, Phillies and Cardinals when he was on the trading block last summer, and Halladay and Landry don't seem so unreasonable as to limit the Jays' chances for a fair deal by providing a list of one. Halladay is, however, believed to prefer teams close to the East Coast, teams that train in Florida (he lives just outside Tampa in winters) and of course winning teams.
14. Fern Cuza, Brian David, Pat Rooney, John Courtright, Mark Pieper, etc., SFX Baseball agents. The group has a nice list: Tejada, Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Erik Bedard, Adam LaRoche, Bengie Molina, Jim Thome, Kiko Calero and Khalil Greene. Cuza in particular has two former MVPs for sale, Tejada and Guerrero, plus former CY Young winner Pedro. One competing agent suggests he may be able to get a three-year deal for Tejada, who is thought be drawing interest from the Cardinals, Astros, Giants, Phillies and Rangers. But the great Guerrero is going to be a harder sell. Guerrero can still hit, as seen in the AL playoffs, but some GMs question whether he's begun to break down (though as one person close to Guerrero pointed out, they said the same thing six years ago, when the Angels wisely signed him for $75 million over five years plus an option year). Guerrero also plans to spend the winter getting himself in top shape, Cuza said. Cuza's $136 million deal for Alfonso Soriano also hangs in the air. It may prevent the Cubs from dealing Soriano, and it also provides a target for Holiday and Bay to shoot for. LaRoche had a big second half, Calero a very nice year in Florida and Bedard is hugely talented (when healthy).
15. Brian Cashman, Yankees GM. No matter how quiet the Yankees say they will be, they always carry the potential to do something major. They had a boffo year financially in their first year in new Yankee Stadium, and new boss Hal Steinbrenner certainly is feeling strong after big moves for Sabathia and Teixeira paid off in the first World Series title in nine years. Look for them to be players for Halladay or Lackey and to try to bring back Andy Pettitte, Damon and probably Hideki Matsui, too. And don't rule them out completely on the big outfielders (Holliday or Bay).
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