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December 13, 2005

Under The Knife

Winter Meetings FAQ

by Will Carroll

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Dallas was cold outside the Wyndham Anatole but, apart from the draft that coursed through the lobby, the action there was as hot as at any winter meetings I've attended. If you haven't listened to the BP Radio edition from this weekend, this is definitely not one to miss. I've been flooded with questions both at and since the meetings, so in today's hybrid column, I'll try to answer as many of them as I can.

Powered by Mountain Dew MDX, on to the column ...

What's the deal with Josh Beckett and the Red Sox trying to void the trade? Is that even possible?
This was one of the hot rumors early in the meetings and one that requires answers on several levels. After discussion with Tom Gorman, our rules guy here at BP--every team has one--the answer is no, by the time this rumor came out, the trade was official and broadcast to each team. Of course, this is only significant if the Red Sox did try this, and the answer here is "yes and no." The Red Sox did note some abnormalities in Beckett's MRI and were able to keep dealing, getting Guillermo Mota into the trade. The fact that Beckett had a recent MRI on his pitching shoulder is telling, but not informative. Most pitchers would have some level of damage inside their pitching shoulder and given that the Sox consummated the deal, they must have felt comfortable with the risk.

Have the Jays lost their mind? Did they look at the mechanics of the two pitchers they signed before handing over the keys to the kingdom?
I won't try to justify the signings that the Jays made over the past few weeks. I'd never sign any pitcher to a deal longer than three years. There was an interesting discussion at the meetings--I wish I could tell you the names--about buying out risk. It centered around the deal for Rafael Furcal, taking more money per year for a shorter deal. I happen to like the strategy while others in the game don't. Furcal isn't in the same situation as A.J. Burnett or B.J. Ryan, but the principle is even more true for pitchers. I'd pay someone like Kevin Millwood or Matt Morris more per year if they'd take a one- or two-year deal.

Still, there's something to be said for these two deals. The Jays had available cash, got two of the best pitchers available, and have more moves and payroll room to make deals. The team that's lived in third place for nearly a decade is making a calculated gamble, albeit a huge one, in hopes that the weakened Sox and Yanks might cede their title in '06. Burnett's mechanical problems are well covered, though it's important to note that Brad Arnsberg probably took too much heat for the damage. Good friend and then-Marlins announcer Jon Sciambi told me years ago that I was too hard on Arnsberg, that much of what he was blamed for was actually the result of Jeff Torborg's handling and usage patterns. We'll see.

Ryan is a different case. His mechanics are bad, but also part of why he's so good. His delivery is deceptive and certainly generates velocity. One scout I spoke to said he's been like that since A ball and that instead of trying to fix him, you use him as much as you can and hope you get enough value before he blows up. Since none of us can predict when that will be, there's no reason for the Jays to change what's worked. They just have a lot more money on the line. Ryan may be painful to watch, but I wouldn't try to change him now.

The Marlins are having another fire sale while they head out of town or maybe to contraction. What is Larry Beinfest doing collecting a bunch of what you'd surely call TNSTAAPPs?
The Marlins may put out one of the worst teams in recent memory after dealing away everything short of Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, but then again, if there are any two players you want to keep, it would be your young charismatic Cy Young winner and the one guy who could turn into Albert Pujols. Beinfest has collected a load of young arms and, assuming they aren't rushed to the majors, the Fish will have a minimum of three "plus arms" by 2008. Most scouts I spoke to think that more of them will turn out or at least be good enough in the minors to turn into position players once they sort out and get closer. It's not the worst plan I've heard a team have, if exceptionally risky.

It's been a year since Alan Schwarz's "Scouts vs Stats" Roundtable. Has anything changed?
The question implies that something should change, and that further implies that something was wrong in the first place. Is there some kind of rivalry between doctors and lawyers? It's two different ways of getting information about players and the smart teams--and there are more of those than you know--use both. Dayn Perry had it right with his "beer and tacos" analogy. Where both sides have gone wrong is in language, not execution. BP is often called hard to get into because of the heavy math, scatter charts and condescending attitude. Scouts, on the other hand, have a near impenetrable shorthand like the 80 scale, terms like "makeup" that need to be parsed down to component level, and their condescending attitude. Teams like the Indians that try to quantify what scouts do and see are ahead of the curve, but there are new management packages that will let the rest of the teams catch up over the next few years. Every team has scouts, and I'm pretty sure that every team has at least one "stats guy," so where do the smart teams differentiate themselves? That's a good question.

Where did this Miguel Tejada trade demand come from and who's in on him?
Like Manny Ramirez, there's probably not a team in baseball that Tejada doesn't make better by playing shortstop for them. OK, maybe the Yankees, but I think even they could find a place for him. Tejada's timing is a bit strange, but some are seeing the hand of David Ortiz involved. Ortiz is friends with both Ramirez and Tejada and some think if he's going to lose one friend and teammate, why not get one back? I don't think Big Papi is playing agent, but Tejada seems genuine with his desire to win. Then again, he was genuine when he took the big pile of cash from Peter Angelos a couple years back. Scott Boras has this one right--you signed the contract, you play it out. I'd hate to see baseball turn into the holdout and renegotiation fest that football has become, even in season. The Red Sox, Cubs and Angels are the most likely candidates for a trade, though the Orioles decidedly do not want to deal Tejada. They'll need to work fast to convince Tejada they want to win, but then again, they're more likely to end up behind Tampa by 2007 as the perennial tailend of the AL East.

What do you think of Tracy Ringolsby getting the J.G. Taylor Spink Award?
Is Tracy Ringolsby the first SABR member to enter the Hall of Fame? He's a love him or hate him kind of guy, but in every dealing I've had with him, he's been a pro. Whatever you think of the man with the ten-gallon hat, he's earned his induction.

Brad Lidge is getting shopped? Are the Astros rebuilding or do they know something about Lidge that the rest of us don't?
The Astros are a very interesting team. After two deep playoff runs, the team is remaking itself on the fly. While everyone paid attention to the Roger Clemens saga, beneath the surface, the team was exploring a couple other options, including Bobby Abreu (for Brandon Backe and Jason Lane), Alfonso Soriano and Kevin Mench, and trading Brad Lidge to several teams. I'm 99% sure that the Braves are one of the teams that made a serious inquiry about Lidge. The Astros did this a couple seasons ago, dealing away Billy Wagner, then Octavio Dotel, knowing that they had pitchers ready for the role behind them. They have that again with Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls, plus enough pitching depth to fill in the roles they vacate. It's smart management to replicate what you've done well and creating closers is something the Astros have done for years. Lidge's confidence took a major hit in the playoffs and his twice-repaired elbow has some mileage on its latest ligament, so it's a good time to start the shopping.

Kevin Millwood is the first of the Boras clients to get an offer (4/$44 million from the Mariners), but apparently that's not enough to get it done. What's he looking for and where will he end up?
Millwood and Boras--who showed up at the winter meetings in a pair of jeans that probably cost more than my car and who apparently attracts reporters in a way that magnets attract metal filings--are looking for something not unlike the Burnett deal. Millwood had a nice year in Cleveland, rebuilding his career, but many talked to me this week about his odd mechanics. He tips his head to the gloveside and doesn't get much forward extension, but he's consistent. His head tips to clear that high release and honestly, I'd rather have a guy who's consistently bad (but not too bad) than one who's just occasionally good. All that said, there's no way I'd give Millwood--or any pitcher--that kind of contract length.

Matt Morris is a Giant now. Was three years too long for him or will the ballpark help him?
I'll leave the park effects work to Clay and Nate and the defensive work to James and Keith, so I'll stick to the injury aspects of Morris' signing. Morris has remade himself after his shoulder injury and came back nicely from off-season cleanup. Pitchers that remake themselves after injury--think Tommy John or Frank Tanana--often have long careers. Morris has taken a pretty serious workload during his time in St Louis, but if you look at their track record, there's not a lot of serious injury there to the starters. Morris isn't a horrible risk from the injury standpoint and likely to be a positive component for a Giants team that you just have to think is going for it this year. I think Brian Sabean is sticking to what he does best and planning to build the team up with in-season trades.

The Rangers are getting crushed in the Metroplex for trading Alfonso Soriano and not getting back what they need, pitching. Worse, Brad Wilkerson was injured last season. What's the deal there?
I don't grasp how anyone doesn't like this deal. Wilkerson gives the team a solid outfielder and opens a slot for Ian Kinsler. Assuming Terrmel Sledge can be a good fourth outfielder and Armando Galarraga (have to love that name) is your garden variety power-arm prospect, that's a nice return. The Rangers never had as much market for Soriano as was thought. The best offer I know of was Scott Kazmir and while he may still become the ace many think he will, I'd much rather have Wilkerson. Jon Daniels and his staff aren't done and I think this is just the first of a few moves that will have the Rangers competitive all year long and the rest of this decade.

Did you present the Dick Martin Award at the Winter Meetings?
The Brewers were kind enough to allow me to present the Award at one of their team functions. GM Doug Melvin and AGM Gord Ash were there, as well as the field staff, to see Roger Caplinger get the award he so richly deserves. (Quick note - PBATS gave their award this season to Tampa Bay, so I'm not the only one that's recognizing these guys.) The DMA might never be the Cy Young or even a lesser award, but teams are beginning to notice and many ask me how their teams rate. One GM stopped me in the lobby and said it was now an organizational goal to win that award in the next three years. I don't do many pictures in this column, but Roger Caplinger and Dan Wright deserve the recognition. Ned Yost is on the far right and you can figure out who the bald guy on the left is.

award photo

I do want to toss out some thanks while I have some space. Thank you to Jamey Newberg and his crew for inviting the BP gang out to his event. I'll have a hard time not drafting Thomas Diamond in my leagues after meeting him. Thanks to James Click for picking the wine and to Chaim Bloom for introducing me to Leo Mazzone. To Cory Schwartz and Mike Siano for letting Joe and I sit in for an hour every day on MLB Radio. And finally to Brad Wochomurka for working his ass off all week making sure we had everything we needed on the radio side. I can't wait for Orlando. It has to be warmer there.

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