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December 1, 2006

Prospectus Today

Winter Meetings Preview, Part One

by Joe Sheehan

Thirty GMs, 30 staffs, 30 sets of assorted hangers-on and about a million clean-cut 22-year-olds will be descending on Orlando next week for the winter meetings. With many of the top hitting free agents already locked up, the focus has been on the available pitchers, of which there are many, as well as the possibility that there could be an active trade market.

Here's part one of a quick-and-dirty look at what each team could be focusing on during the get-together.

Arizona: Their young, everyday lineup is pretty much set, so much so that they could and should move Eric Byrnes after his career year. The Doug Davis deal shores up the front of the rotation; the next focus has to be a bullpen that has been a problem of late, especially from the left side. Re-signing Miguel Batista makes sense, but there's not much news on that front.

Atlanta: They're apparently intent on bringing Tom Glavine back, which only makes sense if he comes in on a discount. A six-inning, mid-rotation starter doesn't make this team much better. They need bullpen help and perhaps a left fielder, unless they commit to what would be a tasty Ryan Langerhans/Matt Diaz platoon. Marcus Giles has been on the brink of being traded for a month; with the number of teams looking for second basemen dwindling, it may be time to pull the trigger.

Baltimore: Their additions are that of a team that thinks it's closer than it is, spending money on the back of the rotation (Jaret Wright) and the bullpen (Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford). Those pickups don't hurt them, but if that money isn't available to help them upgrade first base and left field, they're just treading water. Finding new homes for Jay Gibbons and Melvin Mora, whose contracts are out of line with their production, would help. Miguel Tejada, by the way, looks more and more like one of the great free-agent signings ever.

Boston: If you've had Manny Ramirez for six years, and all of a sudden he's a bargain, why would you trade him? He's still a wildly productive player, he can't be that big a distraction if you've had the success you've had with him, and quite frankly, you can't afford to lose the bat. The Sox's problem last year wasn't just the bullpen; it was a lineup that didn't work after you got past Ramirez's spot. Right now, they have a declining Jason Varitek, a comebacking Coco Crisp, Alex Cora and Dustin Pedroia up the middle. That's not a team that can give up a .340 EqA guy just because he's a bit screwy. If they just replace Ramirez with J.D. Drew, as has been rumored, they're treading water.

There's also some situation involving a Japanese pitcher they may or may not sign. Look for this to get done next week, as deadline brinksmanship is not going to help anyone involved. The Sox need Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Chicago Cubs: They've spent a lot of cash already, so further improvements will have to come through the trade market or from within. If you can identify a second player who's likely to have a .360 OBP, let me know. As much money as they've committed, they're still flawed, with a utility infielder at second base, two average guys on the outfield corners and a rotation that is probably to lead the league in walks allowed. Even at that, they look like the favorites in a weak NL Central. Adding an innings guy certain to make 32 starts and a platoon partner for Jacque Jones would help.

Chicago White Sox: Trading Joe Crede for Chone Figgins wouldn't help them very much, as Figgins just isn't that good a player. They need a leadoff hitter whose primary skill is getting on base, not stealing bases once he's on. Figgins will have a .350 OBP or so, and that's nothing special in the #1 slot. He'll also be getting expensive, and there are indications that he might be losing a little speed (triples down, GIDP rate up). If they feel they have to trade Crede-they don't-they can likely do better than this.

Kenny Williams still has six starters for five spots, and Brandon McCarthy didn't take to the bullpen, so something has to happen to clear up the logjam. Mark Buerhle is a good bet to leave, although Freddy Garcia's name comes up much more often. In any case, remember that Williams is far, far removed from the Todd Ritchie deal, and very likely to win any trade he makes.

Cincinnati: They may have the best player on the trade market in Adam Dunn, and I don't know a single person who thinks, after last summer's shenanigans, that they'll get value for him. The Reds may be getting off track, focusing on batters' strikeouts rather than overall offensive performance. If doing so causes them to deal Dunn on the cheap, they'll be even worse next year. A true center fielder/leadoff man who would push Ken Griffey Jr. to center field would be the best fit, although I'm not volunteering to have the conversation with Junior about it. Ryan Freel tired badly last year and is best used as a utility guy.

The Reds' MLB depth chart, as listed at MLB.com, has 18 relievers. Honest. What's funny is that I don't think a single one can break 92 with his fastball.

Cleveland: The David Dellucci signing makes a lot of things fall into place. They'll be much better on the corners with him and Shin-Soo Choo. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find another team with as much left-handed pop as the Indians have, even though Dellucci and Choo both need to be platooned. They could be quiet this week; they have some infield depth and arms to deal, but the lineup and rotation are pretty much set. The one thing they could really use is a dominant reliever.

Colorado: It's hard to evaluate them in light of the way Coors Field played last season, what with the humidor and all. Their pitchers' numbers were all affected by the conditions, which changed dramatically in the last six weeks. The one thing you can say is that the starters all look durable, which is an important trait for this team and enables them to focus on other issues. The Rockies are bad up the middle, but there isn't much catching or center-field help to be had on the market. Someone of the Garret Atkins/Jeff Baker/Ian Stewart group needs to be set free soon, although that may not happen next week.

Detroit: They may be set, or pretty close to it, after the Gary Sheffield deal. All the major contributors are locked up and they look to already know who will occupy 21 or 22 roster spots next April. They have pitching to move if they want to spring for another OBP upgrade in left field or at first base. I remain highly enamored of Wil Ledezma, who runs the risk of becoming Neal Cotts or Alan Embree if he doesn't escape to a team that will start him.

Florida: They were one of the biggest stories of the season without a center fielder, so why worry? Because you need a flycatcher in Dolphins Stadium, for one, and Hanley Ramirez is ill-suited to the leadoff spot, for two. Ramirez' power would play better lower in the lineup, as would his eagerness at the plate. Solving both issues with one player is unlikely, but a gamble on someone like Jeremy Reed, perhaps, or making a bigger deal for Rocco Baldelli, could work out for them. They have pitching-pre-arbitration pitching at that-to burn, and given the market price of starters, they have to consider trading Dontrelle Willis, don't they?

Houston: Spend all the money you want, Mr. McLane. Until you reduce the number of OBP sinks in the lineup below four, your team isn't going to score enough runs to win. Chris Burke could replace Craig Biggio if the Astros were so inclined, and Adam Everett and Willy Taveras play enough defense to justify their spots. Brad Ausmus is just a black hole, however. Brad Lidge has been available for a while, but why sell low? Even in the NL Central, there are too many flaws here to think one good trading week would change things.

Kansas City: Dayton Moore continues to work around the edges, having the luxury of time and the knowledge that nothing he does will make the Royals winners in 2007. He has some veterans who could be moved, notably Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders. There's no longer a market for Mike Sweeney, just at the point where he may no longer be good enough to play for a team that's just swimming in corner bats. Moore should keep collecting pitchers and focusing on the 2009 lineup.

Los Angeles Angels: Set aside the ridiculous Gary Matthews Jr. contract and just look at the roster. Where will the runs come from? The Angels actually had a fair number of things go right last year, as guys like Mike Napoli, Orlando Cabrera and Juan Rivera played at or near the top of their range. They don't need 850 runs to win-not with their pitching-but they do need 750, and I'm not sure they can get there while still playing a legacy contract in left field and assorted .330 OBPs. Someone from the Casey Kotchman/Dallas McPherson/Kendry Morales hallelujah chorus of disappointment needs to emerge as a .370./.480 guy or, at the least, viable trade bait.

If the Justin Speier contract means they'll trade Scot Shields, it's a good thing. Shields' perceived value is incredibly high, but after four years of high workloads, it may be a good time to leverage that before the production slips. Bill Stoneman has rarely made a major-league trade, so it will be interesting to see if he pulls the trigger on something for Figgins or Shields this week.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Ned Colletti has made it clear that he's Brian Sabean's offspring, and will consistently value experience over potential. That's why the Dodgers now have a two-year commitment to Nomar Garciaparra despite the possibility that he's their third-best corner infielder. It wouldn't surprise me to see Colletti deal for a starting pitcher, something the Dodgers need, using an Andy LaRoche or Jonathan Meloan or a James Loney to get it done. Dodger prospects are for trading, not playing.

That's a lot to digest…we'll get to part two over the weekend, before the fun starts.

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

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