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December 3, 2006

Prospectus Today

Winter Meetings Preview, Part Two

by Joe Sheehan

And now, the second half of the winter meetings preview, featuring those teams unfortunate enough to play in cities whose names don't start with the letters A through L…

Milwaukee Brewers: The Doug Davis deal-I'm not a fan; I think they gave up 40% of a league-average rotation for a minor upgrade behind the plate that was probably their big move for the offseason. They have some bad contracts with outfielders, but are unlikely to find new homes for Geoff Jenkins or Brady Clark anytime soon. It's a tough roster to improve, with few gaping holes and a lot of guys right around league-average or a little above.

Minnesota Twins: Simply not repeating last year's mistakes by bringing in old, inferior players will be an upgrade. They could use a mid-rotation starter, although the Adam Eaton contract probably priced them out of that class of free agent, and a big bat from the right side. A deal like they made a year ago for Luis Castillo, this time for a power hitter, would make them better.

New York Mets: Barry Zito is assumed by many to be coming here, given that the Mets only have about 2 ˝ starting pitchers right now. It was 1 ˝, but they caught a break with Tom Glavine's return. I count four guys with jobs ahead of Lastings Milledge, this on the heels of last year's conflicts between him and some teammates. If there's a trade to be made for a starter-the White Sox are shopping arms, the Pirates have some pitching, the Twins do-Milledge would be a natural chip to move.

New York Yankees: Quiet. Almost…too…quiet. They seem to be retreating from the $200 million payrolls of recent years, and Brian Cashman simply isn't going to trade the guys he sees as the Andy Pettitte/Bernie Williams core of the next Yankees team, so there's not much for them to do. They need to add a first baseman or a DH, as Andy Phillips isn't the answer, and most people-not me-think they need to add a starter as well. One reader, a long-time guy whose stuff I take seriously, thinks they should be peddling Bobby Abreu. It's a thought, but the Yankee offense may need his OBP.

Oakland A's: The potential addition of Mike Piazza is a good idea. The A's could use a high-average, high-power guy, even if that player didn't fit the overall approach. Piazza, even at his current .280 BA, isn't a bad fit. The model is peak Garret Anderson or Dante Bichette, someone to hit .310/.350/.530 and accumulate massive amounts of RBI. Beyond solving DH, the A's will return most of the 2006 playoff team next year. There are worse plans.

Philadelphia Phillies: It will be interesting to see if Pat Gillick completes the hat trick and trades Pat Burrell, clearing the last of the three massive contracts he inherited a little over a year ago. At $14 million per through 2008, he's pretty much a bargain; heck, he's 90% of the hitter that Carlos Lee is, and in any given year could outhit the Astros' $100 million man. Burrell would be a good pickup for a team savvy enough to pick up the money on his deal instead of swapping prospects. The Twins would be a pretty good fit, actually. Maybe the White Sox as well, where Burrell could sit 30 times against the toughest righties.

If they do trade Burrell, the Phillies will potentially have the worst-hitting outfield in the league. A Michael Bourn/Aaron Rowand/Shane Victorino combination would be fairly good with the gloves, and replacement level with the bats. Trot Nixon could be worth a gamble here, or perhaps Aubrey Huff. The Phillies were carried by three hitters during their run late in 2006; it would be a mistake to go that route again.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Heaven knows what they'll do, but here's an idea: go 1991 Braves. You already have a very good defensive infield. Sign Doug Mientkiewicz and Darin Erstad and see if you can't put up a .750 DER behind the young pitchers with the high contact rates. If nothing else, you might help Zach Duke and Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny survive their development curves. In a best-case scenario, you win 86 games and the wild card, and you're basically the 2007 version of the Tigers.

San Diego Padres: The massive hole they created at second base in the Josh Barfield deal hasn't been filled. They still have bullpen guys to deal; the long-rumored trade of Scott Linebrink hasn't happened, leaving them four deep in set-up men. Perhaps Jon Adkins can turn the deuce?

In the bigger picture, the Padres need to add power. The most likely place to do this is in left field, but the Pads also need corner outfielders who can cover the steppe that doubles as their outfield. There's no obvious free agent, which is why you'll hear the Padres linked with every team that has any outfield depth to speak of. To get anything of value, they'd have to talk Jake Peavy, which isn't going to happen.

San Francisco Giants: Six of their top nine guys from last year were free agents, so there's something to be said for re-signing Ray Durham. You can only have so many holes at once, and Kevin Frandsen is stretched to play one infield position, much less two.

With the signings of Durham, Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts, though, the Giants look like a team that's playing for the short term, rather than the future. If that's the case, it would seem like signing Barry Bonds should be high on their to-do list. It's one thing to "move on" if you're going to play a bunch of farm products. It's another to sustain the game's oldest roster. Bonds showed in the second half of last season that he's still one of the best hitters in the game and that he can play left field capably five days a week. Whatever tertiary issues exist with him are dwarfed by the value of his bat and the revenues he'll produce as he approaches 756, and he means more to the Giants than he does to any other team.

Seattle Mariners: It looks like the Mariners will return a roster awfully close to what they ended last season with, with a team comprised of interesting young players and those on untradeable contracts. They could probably use a bat for the DH spot, although they've tended to rifle through the bargain bin for that spot, with poor results. Bill Bavasi may be under pressure to Do Something, and it takes fortitude to deflect that and stick to a plan. An absence of movement should not, this winter, be mistaken for an inability to get something done.

St. Louis Cardinals: Like the Mets, the Cardinals are in dire need of some starting pitchers. Unlike the Mets, they at least have a #1 starter in place. With the mid-range market for starters having gone nuts, they'll pick around the edges for guys who fit the retread mold and see what Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan can do. I'm on board the "trade Chris Duncan" bandwagon, because family ties aside, there's no place for him here. He's that bad in the outfield. A very pre-arb hitter with Duncan's power should be able to bring back a starting pitcher

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Their outfield crunch could be getting even more crowded, as Elijah Dukes presses towards the majors and B.J. Upton looks more and more like an outfielder. Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford are both good now, have upside and are signed to very nice contracts. Something should give, although it may not happen this week. Teams with enough pitching to interest the Rays include the White Sox, Twins, A's, Angels, Pirates and maybe the Tigers. There's got to be some kind of Pirates/Devil Rays deal that works for both teams.

Texas Rangers: They keep acting like a team that's close, but I don't see it. Too many question marks, too many defensive issues, too many starting pitching prospects who never become starting pitchers. If they took a year off from trying so hard, put some gloves behind the young arms and didn't worry about winning the West, they might be better off on the other side.

Toronto Blue Jays: Down Frank Catalanotto, up Frank Thomas and Royce Clayton. It's a close call whether the Jays' lineup or Fox News' lineup lists more heavily to the right. They need some lefty help, probably in left field, and-believe me, I feel strange even writing this-some speed wouldn't hurt. This may be the slowest team in baseball, and that costs runs over the course of the year. They should worry less about the rotation and more about the balance on offense. J.P. Ricciardi wouldn't be hurt by checking in with Wayne Krivsky about his left fielder, either.

Washington Nationals: They're mostly biding time until the park gets built. If Jim Bowden can make one deal a year along the lines of the Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez heist, the team that eventually plays there will be pretty good. That kind of deal may not be available this week, as the Nats don't have a glut of talent anywhere. They were surprisingly busy last year, though, and Bowden loves to be active, so the Nats could be good for a deal or two.

Joe Sheehan will be in Orlando for instant reaction to all the happenings at the Winter Meetings. Now is the perfect time to subscribe for all your Hot Stove news and analysis.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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