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November 19, 2010

On the Beat

The AL Winter Agenda

by John Perrotto

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The hot stove season really began to heat up this week during the general manager's meetings in Orlando and figures to only get warmer by the time executives return to the Magic Kingdom on December 6 for the winter meetings. Here is a look at what each of the American League teams might do between now and the start of spring training:

Orioles: Adding a big bat at one of the two corner infield positions or both is a must after finishing 13th in the AL in runs scored. The team could particularly use a cleanup hitter to bat behind Nick Markakis. They would also like a veteran innings-eater to replace free agent Kevin Millwood, as much relief pitching as they can find and a two-way shortstop to replace the light-hitting Cesar Izturis.  While they would prefer not to trade any of their young pitching, Dave Hernandez or Chris Tillman could go in a deal for a power hitter.

Red Sox: The first order of business is seeing if they can re-sign both third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez. Even if they do, a power hitter still tops the wish list along with one good reliever from both the left and right side. Of course, they'll need a catcher and/or third baseman if they are unable to retain Beltre and Martinez. They have some interesting chips to trade, particularly shortstops Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick.

White Sox: A left-handed hitter is the top priority, especially if they don't re-sign first baseman Paul Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. They will also be in the market for late-inning right-handed relievers, as J.J. Putz is a free agent and closer Bobby Jenks is likely to be non-tendered. They would be willing to part with right-hander Gavin Floyd.

Indians: A third baseman is needed until prospect Lonnie Chisenhall is deemed ready to take over, likely sometime after next season's All-Star break. They also would like to add a veteran starting pitcher on the cheap. They have a stockpile of left-handed starters who have struggled at the major-league level who can be had in trade, including David Huff, Aaron Laffey, and Jeremy Sowers.

Tigers: The biggest need is a power hitter to join Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the lineup now that they have bolstered the bullpen by signing Joaquin Benoit to set up closer Jose Valverde. They have plenty of pitching depth in the farm system, but left-hander Andy Oliver and right-hander Jacob Turner are off limits.

Royals: A right-handed power bat tops the wish list, and they would also like a veteran who could fill in behind the plate because catcher Jason Kendall could miss the first half of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. They have already traded outfielder David DeJesus to the Athletics and would part with 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke at the high price of two high-ceiling young players or prospects, a second-level prospect, and a serviceable veteran. They also have a surplus of left-handed pitching prospects they would consider dealing along with such role players as infielders Mike Aviles and Chris Getz and outfielder Mitch Maier.

Angels: They have two big holes to fill in left field and at third base, and they would want one of them to be a leadoff hitter. A reliever with late-inning experience is also a possibility, as they aren't entirely sold on Fernando Rodney, Jordan Walden, or Kevin Jepsen as the closer. They are one of the rare teams with catching depth, which means Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Bobby Wilson, or prospect Hank Conger might be moved, as could one of a host of infielders that includes Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, Howie Kendrick, Eric Aybar, and Brandon Wood.

Twins: They will need to restock the bullpen after being hit hard in that area in free agency, and they would be amenable to trading for an ace (Greinke's name keeps getting mentioned) if the opportunity arises. The Twins have good organizational depth in the outfield and would consider trading Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, or Jason Kubel off the major-league roster or Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, and Joe Benson out of the farm system.

Yankees: Their lack of pitching depth showed down the stretch, so they want to add at least one high-end starter, with left-hander Cliff Lee being their primary target, and set-up help for closer Mariano Rivera. Catching prospect Jesus Montero could go in the right trade but only if the Yankees could acquire another backstop, allowing Jorge Posada to become a full-time designated hitter. Reliever Joba Chamberlain could also be had.

Athletics: They are halfway to their goal of adding two bats to an anemic offense after giving up right-hander Vin Mazzaro, the young pitcher they were most amenable to trading, to the Royals for DeJesus. The second hitter will likely come in free agency, with designated hitter Hideki Matsui reportedly a prime target.

Mariners: The offense went through a scoring drought of biblical proportions last season, so they are looking for hitters. They would also like a number-two starter to plug into the rotation between Felix Hernandez and Doug Fister and Jason Vargas. Ownership also must decide if the team would be better served by paying Milton Bradley the $12 million left on his contract to just go away. Closer David Aardsma is their most marketable trade asset, as hard-throwing set-up man Brandon League seems ready to take his place.

Rays: Six relievers are free agents and cost-effective replacements will need to be found. They would also like to find a way to at least try to make up for some of the offense lost with the departure of left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Carlos Pena as free agents, and a front-line catcher is also on their want list, though it is not a big priority. The Rays have the depth to dangle two interesting players in trade talks, right-hander James Shields and shortstop Jason Bartlett.

Rangers: Re-singing Lee is the top priority. If they don't, one contingency plan being discussed is to move closer and AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz into the rotation and look outside the organization for someone to finish games. They would also like to upgrade at catcher after cobbling together a solution last season with Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor. One of the top farm systems in the game has been depleted by trades and promotions, leaving few trade chips.

Blue Jays: They need to restock the back end of the bullpen as closer Kevin Gregg, left-handed set-up man Scott Downs, and right-handed set-up man Jason Frasor are free agents and unlikely to be re-signed. They would also like a first baseman with pop and are willing to deal from their starting pitching depth, with Shaun Marcum said to be available at the right price.

---

Seemingly the only thing keeping the Mets from being the perfect setting for Moneyball II is that Billy Beane remains the Athletics' general manager. Otherwise, the Mets have a lot of the other characters in the book after hiring Sandy Alderson as GM, Paul DePodesta as vice president of amateur scouting and player development and J.P. Ricciardi as a special assistant to the GM.

"I'm probably one of the few people out there who was really, really concerned during my college years about being labeled 'dumb jock' and then was labeled a geek once I got into my professional career," said DePodesta, who played baseball and football at Harvard. "The label part of it isn't something I worry too much about. I think probably of the book as a bit of caricature, not just of me, but many of the people involved. In my mind, 'Moneyball' I think has taken on a lot of connotations that weren't really intended or don't really make sense. In my mind, 'Moneyball' really has absolutely nothing to do with on-base percentage. For that matter, it really doesn't have anything even to do with statistics."

Instead, as those who read the book understand, Moneyball was more about Beane and DePodesta, his assistant GM with the Athletics from 1999-2003, finding market inefficiencies than some secret mathematical formula for success.

"'Moneyball' is really about a constant investigation of stagnant systems, to see if you can find value where it isn't readily apparent," DePodesta said. "That's something we did in Oakland. Something I've done (in San Diego), and something I certainly hope to do (in New York). It could be anything. At the time, it happened to be utilizing statistics to help us make better decisions. That certainly isn't always going to be the case, and there are now new frontiers that I think we need to conquer. That to me, at least the way I view 'Moneyball,' is still very much a 'Moneyball' philosophy."

The ironic part of the Alderson-DePodesta-Ricciardi trio coming to the Mets is that ownership is looking to contain costs and cut the payroll. Thus, management will have to work with small-market sensibilities despite playing in the nation's biggest market.

"I've seen a couple people refer to it as, 'Moneyball' with money," DePodesta said. "But I would say that's the Red Sox. In many respects, that's the Yankees. It's also guys like Warren Buffett, Jeremy Grantham, or Bill Miller. Those are the people that are some of the best at employing 'Moneyball' with money. We have a lot of work to do to get to that level. But there's no doubt that the opportunity to be able to do that is really exciting, no question."

DePodesta left the Athletics to become the Dodgers' GM for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He then reunited with Alderson with the Padres in 2006 as a special assistant and was promoted to executive vice president in 2008. DePodesta overhauled the way the Padres analyzed and used data during his time with them.

"Paul is a tremendous talent who will always be welcome at the Padres," Padres CEO Jeff Moorad said. "While we hate to see him leave, we understand and appreciate the long-standing relationship he has had with Sandy."

---

That former Brewers manager Ken Macha and his players did not get along was one of the worst-kept secrets in baseball. Even Macha admitted it after the Brewers told him at the end of last season that they would not exercise his contract option for 2011.

One of the players' beefs with Macha was that they felt he was too conservative offensively and chafed at his belief that a team should rarely risk making an out on the bases. However, new Brewers manager Ron Roenicke vows a more daring style of play.

"At times, you're going to say, 'Why are you running so much? Why are you getting thrown out trying to take extra bases?'" Roenicke said. "That's going to happen, but that's the style I like to play. I've seen it win a lot of games over the years. At times we're going to get thrown out. But over the course of the season, I guarantee we will score a lot more runs by being aggressive. When you let players be aggressive, they have more confidence. That's what this game is all about—confidence."

The Brewers had no one steal more bases last season than center fielder Carlos Gomez's 17. The Brewers were also 17th in the majors with a 4.4 Equivalent Baserunning Runs.

"I think it will be a welcome change for everybody," left fielder Ryan Braun said of Roenicke's philosophy. "The threat of putting pressure on another team is just as valuable as actually doing it. We wanted to do that the last couple of years but were discouraged from doing it."

---

New Blue Jays manager John Farrell was looking for three qualities in his coaches: good communication skills, expertise in their area, and the willingness to be available to their players at all times during the season. Don Wakamatsu, fired as the Mariners' manager in August, met all three qualifications in Farrell's mind and is now the Blue Jays' bench coach.

Wakamatsu was also a catcher during his 12-year professional playing career. So, in addition to being the bench coach, he will also be tasked with helping develop catching prospect J.P. Arencibia, who figures to become the starter next season now that John Buck has moved on as a free agent and signed with the Marlins.

"In J.P.'s case, our goal is to make him an everyday catcher behind the plate leading a pitching staff, and there's further work to be done," Farrell said. "I felt like Don is the right guy for the situation."

Wakamatsu is one of four new additions to the Blue Jays' staff along with first-base coach Torey Lovullo, bullpen coach Pat Hentgen, and coaching assistant Luis Rivera. Hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, third-base coach Brian Butterfield, and pitching coach Bruce Walton are holdovers from Cito Gaston's staff.

"My priority was to put together a group of coaches who are all good communicators, and I think that's what we have here," Farrell said. "We have coaches who already have longstanding relationships with many of the players, but we are also bringing in some guys in Don and Torey who have a lot of experience and are potential managers in their own right. I think it's critical that we build a cohesive unit, which I'm confident will take place. One of the most detrimental things that can pull a team apart is if your coaching staff is splintered and players don't look upon them as a group that not only coexists but works well together, communicates well together. We are providing the lead for them to follow."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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